24 July 2006


This blog contains four weeks' worth of diary entries written from Monday 26 June - Sunday 23 July, whilst I was taking part in the project 'Part-time'.

The diary entries are published in chronological order. Therefore to start from the beginning of the project you must read the blog from the bottom of the page upwards, or access the individual day diaries using the menu on the right.

The brief for 'Part-time' was for the three artists taking part: myself, Joanna Spitzner and Liz Kearney to find a 'normal job' that they could perform for 20 hours a week. Unfortunately none of us, including our commissioner Prime, had anticipated just how difficult it would be to find work. Despite more than two weeks preparation, when I began the project on Monday 26 June I was still unemployed.

My experience of 'Part-time' became a rollercoaster adventure in job seeking and an exploration in the world of recruitment. I was quickly forced to drop all my standards and be prepared to do anything. Personal highlights include:

- My run-in with a door-to-door sales racket masterminded by the evil Cobra Group.

- My two days spent working for Labour Ready in a bizarre family run warehouse on the outskirts of Nottingham.

- And my education in office politics working as a temp for international construction company Gleeds.

At the start of each day's dairy entry, the 24 hour colour-coded Timeline for that period is published. These Timelines are the result of the intensive recording process I carried out for the duration of the project, in which I kept a log of every activity I performed. By cross-referencing the anecdotes recounted in the diary entries with the Key it should be possible to pinpoint particular events on the Timelines.

23 July 2006

End Game

The last day of the 'Part-time' eventually reared its ugly head. From the first week, this day - 23 July, seemed an eternity away. I never thought I would make it.

The second day of the Hen Weekend went very quickly. We left at 13:05, but I was made to spend the entire morning compiling a photo album of images donated by all the people attending, which was presented to the hen before we left.

By the 28th day, recording things had really become second nature. It was still a chore, but it was also well engrained into my routine - I went everywhere with my watch, Log Book and pen and that-was-that. During the leisure time of the past two days however, such a laborious task felt somewhat out of place.

I manage to keep my records up to date never-the-less. A few people spotted me and asked what I kept writing down. After I got to know them a bit I felt able to confess - I was writing down all the different things that I do everyday and categorising them into different types of activity such as 'leisure' of 'domestic work'. Over a four-week period, I was making a study of how exactly I spend my time. Later that day one of the junior doctors called Rosie (who I got on well with) mentioned in passing that her lifestyle at the hospital didn't leave much time for either of these things.

Flo and I travelled back to Nottingham on the train. I spent the best part of the three hour journey writing day diary entries (as published on this blog). By the end of the journey I had reached the end of Tuesday 18 July - the day of The Cobra Group misadventure. I now only had five days left to write up, which I would have to complete the week after 'Part-time' had finished (I finally finished the diaries on Sunday 30 July).

We got home and, as planned, my eBay auctions were about to end. Nearly three hours of this evening was spent packaging up items and addressing them to all those who had already paid. Minus postage costs and eBay and PayPal fees I made a NET profit of 88.82GBP. Disregarding the value of the items themselves, this worked out at about 13GBP per hour for all the time I spent listing and processing the items.

At the moment that the recording process came to an end - I was so absorbed in packaging items that I didn't even realise. I looked at the large display digital watch on my wrist that was now horribly over-familiar (how many times in the last four weeks had I looked at this thing? It must be well over 3000) It was 0:12. I put my Log Book down on the counter next to where I was sat and I finally felt pleased that I had made it.

Week Four Final Hours Slip

22 July 2006

Hen Weekend

The Hen Weekend was a strange experience. Work was finally over, but I was still recording everything I did. I was still undercover, not in the world of low-end employment, but in the world of all-female mini breaks, where 50 percent of the attendees are alumni of either Oxford or Cambridge or both! I had gone from one extreme to another.

I chatted to a few of them quizzing them about their work. This was a real reality check about the notion of 'working hard' - I discovered it's perfectly normal for a junior doctor to work five twelve-hour shifts in a week. The week previous, my friend Nicola, who is a solicitor, had worked from 9:00 - 2:00 everyday at her office. I felt guilty for all my moaning and feeling sorry for myself. I tried to justify my behaviour and it came down to this:

Maybe it's not just about the work load, maybe it's the isolation that gets you down. Junior doctors and solicitors are in exactly the same situation as their colleagues - they are all able to understand what one-another are going through. They can relate to one-another's experiences, therefore can empathise and support each other.

It's a very different situation when 99 percent of the population doesn't have a clue what you are going or why you are doing it. Admittedly, they are entirely self-made pressures but they do exist in the silly little world of the undercover artist. This was my main reason for wanting the help create and then join the Union of Undercover Artists. Liz and Joanna were the only other individuals in the world who could truly identify with the pressures of 'Part-time' as they too had been through it.

When people asked me what I did I said I was 'an artist'. They then asked 'what do you paint?' I explained that I didn't paint and tried to describe what I did do. It was easiest to start with Day-to-Day Data as this could be simply termed 'organising an exhibition'. Not once did I mention what I'd been doing for the last four weeks or the fact that just two days previous I had been packing hundreds of St Tropez tan mitts in a warehouse in the middle of nowhere with a real-life chav and a family of junk food junkies.

Not until Sofie arrive that is. Sofie is an old friend who I have known since I was one (when she was born). She grew up just down the road in Ealing (just like Claudia the Hen and Nicola her sister, the over-worked solicitor). However Flo, Sofie and I comprised the only vegetarians on the trip and more than likely the only three who had attended state schools. We were ever-so-slightly different.

I told Sofie everything, the whole story: the commission from Prime, the meter reading, the agencies, the office work, Broadway, The Cobra Group, Labour Ready and all about those damn mitts. It was like therapy. Telling my story was in someway making it seem less pointless. The fact that had learnt so much and experienced so many new things - I had so much to tell - it suddenly began to seem worthwhile. Sofie seemed interested too; it obviously wasn't as boring as I had feared.

She asked what made it art and not just a sociological study - this was a very interesting question. I answered it by saying that there was certainly a lot of crossover. In a similar way that the Mass-Observation project of the 1930s was founded by writers and artists, it later became viewed as a very important anthropological study. What I had just experienced was in itself an observation on the different lifestyles I encountered - working lifestyles that I would never have otherwise come into contact with.

It made me realise just how lucky I am to do what I do (most of the time) and to be my own boss. 'Part-time' had been a re-education, making me appreciate my own life more. I like the analogy of 'Part-time' being half way between role playing game and social tourism. I was an investigative journalist, randomly stumbling across things of interest, as I desperately scrabbled around for work.

That day we did a 'gorge walk' in the Brecon Beacons. It involved eighteen of us and two instructors, walking up a stream in wellies, helmets and buoyancy aids. We climbed round rocks, sat under waterfalls, crawled underneath waterfalls, trekked up hills and finally jumped off a cliff to finish. In the evening we went to a Thai restaurant in Abergavenny and to a nightclub called The Auberge. I let my hair down a little (consuming my first alcohol, other than the pint of Guinness I had with Joanna on Monday 3 July, since 'Part-time' began), but always kept my Log Book close to hand...

21 July 2006

Wrapping Up

Today was the day of wrapping up loose ends before Flo and I went away on my friend Claudia's Hen Weekend in Abergavenny in Wales. I first called Janine at Barker Ross to explain that I would not be able to do the work at Gleeds on 31 July, to explain that I wouldn't be able to work anytime in the near future, but also to thank her for everything she had done for me.

My excuse was that 'I was going to my mum's to help her move house for at least a week, then when I returned I had a couple of freelance jobs lined up doing websites'. She seemed totally fine with it. I thanked her again and she responded with 'you don't need to thank me; it's what we get paid for!' I guess it was quite literally all-in-a-days-work for Janine.

I also called Powergen to tell them that I wouldn't be able to attend their poxy interview, for their shitty little call centre job. It was so satisfying to reject them (basically the same company as E.ON), waste a bit of their time and their money for a change. Ha Ha! (I was perfectly polite on the phone of course and have both these calls on tape to prove it).

I attempted to collect my final pay cheque from Labour Ready twice today. I first called in with Flo at 8:53, only to find the place completely closed up. It was meant to be open until 10:00 - was there really any point in it having opening hours? I had no choice but to make one final trip there on our way to the station to catch the 16:00. Fortunately this time it was open.

I felt like a different person walking into Labour Ready this time, like I really no longer belonged there. I was no longer an employee - I had no more obligations to fulfil. Once I had the cheque in my hand it was it was all over - my ordeal - my adventure - my experiment had finally come to an end. Apart from collecting data for the Prime Time spreadsheet until 23:59 on Sunday, I was free. Could I now begin to relax and enjoy myself?

20 July 2006

St Tropez Tan Mitts

I didn't sleep well at all, despite being so tired. I suffered from paranoia and had to get out of bed on several occasions to check that my bike had not been stolen. I got up at 6:18 and attempted to sort myself out a bit before I left for Labour Ready. Flo (my sister) was coming this evening and I had to tidy a little before she arrived.

I got to Labour Ready at about 7:55. I picked up my first cheque for yesterday's work - I was over the moon. I tucked it safely inside my notebook to prevent it from getting creased. I didn't want Adam to see me getting a cheque, rather than cash, as it was quite abnormal behaviour for a Labour Ready user. The more questions I could avoid the better.

Labour Ready was the busiest I had ever seen it, lots of people filling out registration forms and lots of people sitting around waiting for work as I had done on my first morning there on Monday 3 July. I felt very privileged to be waltzing in and picking up my 'work ticket', when so many here wouldn't work today.

I saw a man I recognised sitting at one of the tables, then it came to me; this was the Polish guy who had walked out of my first interview at Endeva Advertising the previous week. We were obviously treading the same job seekers path. I looked at him and smiled, though he didn't recognise me. I felt like going up to him to tell him what a lucky escape he had, what a terrible job it had been and how much better off he was at Labour Ready - work or no work.

I started to wonder why Alan had called me the previous day to offer me the work, when he quite clearly had more than enough people already signed in. Perhaps he thought I was a little brighter than some of the regulars and would do well in an office-based role. All things considered it is in Alan's best interests to send the best workers he can get his hands on out to the clients. Good workers will inevitably reflect well on Labour Ready, the clients will be impressed with the service and will want to use them again.

Adam told me that when the 'office work' had come into Labour Ready yesterday morning, I was the first person Alan had called. He didn't know anything about my experience or qualifications as he had never seen my CV - he must have just known I'd be good at it and wouldn't let him down.

Adam arrived shortly after 8:00 and we set off together for the bus stop. This morning, having spent several hours in each-others' company yesterday, it felt as though we had exhausted all possible lines of conversation. Fortunately we both managed to pick up copies of Metro which occupied us for the best part of the journey.

Today was when I really became aware of how unhealthy the employees of M & L Services' diets and lifestyles were. I arrived just before 9:00 (Adam had gone to Lidl again), to find Nicky and Emma sat goggle-eyed in front of their computers both munching their way through a packet of crisps with a chocolate bar close to hand for afters. This was either breakfast or a post-breakfast snack - I had no way of knowing.

In the office was kept a dangerous device known as a 'snack box'. A box full of crisps and chocolates that was left by the 'snack box man' and then refilled on a fortnightly basis - when you took something out you left cash behind in its place.

Before lunch break, Nicky had already reached into the snack box for her second packet of crisps. Then at 12:50 Emma declared her intention to go to 'McShits' for lunch 'come on Nicky, you're coming with me!' McDonalds was less than 10 minutes walk, yet they drove and were back before 13:00 with food for all the family (except me - they didn't bother asking me). Mum (Carol) had a Big Mac and fries, which she ate at her desk. She emptied the fries into the other side of the polystyrene burger box to create a makeshift canteen tray...

On her desk there was a large container of Saxa table salt. It looked as though this container remained on there throughout, as part of the desk furniture, and was used on a regular basis. Before even tasting a chip, Carol picked up the Saxa and with a fluid zig-zag motion, liberally covered both the Big Mac and the fries. Then with one-fell-swoop, she licked her lips, rubbed her hands together and tucked in. Had Carol, I wonder, ever considered how much salt there was in a McDonalds already?

McFlurries now long since gone, shortly after 15:00 Emma whipped out and started munching through a Mars Bar - a light afternoon snack maybe? Did they do this everyday I wondered, how is it possible to sustain this sort of lifestyle? I guess fairly easy if you're happy to carry a few spare tyres around with you until you meet with an early grave.

For the first hour of that day there was absolutely nothing for me to do. I had only been asked back to work this day as well, because the important visitors who had briefly shown their faces yesterday were due back in the late morning. M & L Services had to maintain the illusion of have lots of hard working staff.

I completed the 'B Grade' spreadsheet they had made me start the afternoon before. They then got me to reformat it into a different order, something that could have been done in a few seconds using 'Data > Sort' function in Excel, but instead they made me do it the most laborious way possible by typing out all the information again from scratch, this time in the new order.

It was during this excruciatingly tedious task, that the visitors returned and it was during their visit that I completed the newly ordered version of the spreadsheet. I mention to Nicky that I had finished. Because the visitors were in such close proximity, just outside the office likely to walk in at any moment, she panickedly said 'just type anything! Go to the bottom of the sheet and just keep typing!' So for the next few minutes I just randomly typed words, anything that came into my head, while the unsuspecting guests walked to and fro behind us. They eventually left for lunch.

In the 10 minutes that the girls were at McDonalds, I managed to get a few good pictures of the office (published above) and at 13:00 I went on my break and for a walk around the local sites. During my break I found that Janine (from Barker Ross Recruitment) had left a message on my phone. She was offering me more work at Gleeds starting on 31 July. Although I knew I wouldn't be going back I felt happy because, apparently, Sarah Brown had specifically asked for me.

To me this seemed excellent closure on the whole Barker Ross and Gleeds episode - reassurance that I had been a good worker, that they were impressed with my newly created filing system and that I had not let anyone down by being too weird or scruffy, as I had feared. I planned to call Janine tomorrow to let her know that I was no longer available for work - she had been really good to me.

After lunch the visitors were gone for good and Martin, the miserable big boss, was not there either. There was no need for any of us to pretend anymore. There was quite clearly nothing more to be done in the office so we all (except Nicky) migrated into the warehouse to the production line.

The radio was on and there was a nice atmosphere, much more relaxed than it had been in the tiny office. So for the rest of the afternoon Carol, Emma, Adam and I worked as a team packing St Tropez tan mitts into there boxes until they were all done, loaded on the pallet and fork-lift trucked towards the exit.

It was a very satisfying process, to see all the differed component parts (mitts, small boxes, stickers, large boxes, pallets, and pallet tape) come together. And was certainly light relief from staring at a computer screen. Adam was in good spirits and much more talkative in front of Emma and Carol, who joked and causally teased him. He came out with one philosophical pearl of wisdom that I won't forget for a while. It was very endearing and made me begin to self-analyse what a miserable cow I was most of the time. He said 'you gotta be appy ain't ya? Cos if yain't appy wha are ya? yor sad and nobody wants to be sad dothay?'

We caught the bus back to town again together. Adam began to get restless when we got stuck in traffic. He said he needed to get back to Labour Ready before it closed - he so desperate for the cash, he couldn't wait til the morning. He got off the bus a few stops early and ran. Overtaking all the traffic, he disappeared into the distance - that was the last I saw of him. I hoped he would be OK.

I popped into Labour Ready on my way home too, as it was still open and it would save me going back tomorrow. The man at the desk was not Alan, but someone not so nice who I did not recognise. He said he had shut down the computer and that he couldn't process my pay today. It was only 18:20 by this point and the place was meant to stay open until 19:00. This really annoyed me as I didn't want to have to go back tomorrow; I wanted to collect my cheque and to see the back of the place forever.

That night Flo (my sister) came to visit and it began to feel like the first step back to normality.

19 July 2006

Labour Ready Surprise

After The Cobra Group debacle, I had began to reside myself to the fact that if I wanted to find employment for the remaining three working days of the project, then my only option was to go back to Labour Ready. This was the only place I had discovered during my adventures in job seeking that gave any possibility of finding an immediate post.

I had not got my act together today to make the early start at Labour Ready, but had made my mind up that Thursday would definitely be the day to go back there. I hoped to find work with them in order to finish what I'd started by registering nearly three weeks ago. Since I discovered that you could be paid with a special Labour Ready cheque, if you chose not to take cash, I had my heart set on getting hold of one with my name printed on it. (If you accepted cash you were also subject to a 1GBP fee and the machine from which it was issued was also unable to pay any sums under a 1GBP - you were unnecessarily losing money). I would have been very disappointed with myself, if 'Part-time' had come to an end and I had not overcome my initial fears and worked for Labour Ready.

I was sat at my computer, having been swimming, just about to start inputting some of the data I collected yesterday (whilst working the streets) into my Prime Time spreadsheet - now well over 1800 entries. My phone began to ring. It was Alan from Labour Ready! This was so strange, was he a mind-reader? A psychic or was he my guardian angel this man? He must have known I wanted to be there, in spirit, but that I just couldn't bring myself to get up at 5:30.

He asked if I could work today at 12:00. I'd need to be at Labour Ready at 10:45 so that I could travel to the warehouse (where I'd be working), with guy who had worked there the previous week. The work would be 'data entry' and 'a bit of answering phones'; it would be for the next two days at least. I gratefully accepted, unable to fully comprehend how lucky I was. It was now 10:15 - I had half-an-hour to get ready. I put on my 'smart outfit', packed lunch and then left.

I got to Labour Ready just as Alan was about to call to ask where I was. He was brief with me and held out my 'work ticket' for me to collect. There was a small scruffy man with a small drawstring bag standing at the desk. As I arrived he started towards the door. It quickly transpired that this was Adam and we would be travelling to work together on the Rainbow 5 bus to Long Eaton. Adam explained that he had been waiting there since 10:00. He had initially 'signed-in' around 6:30, but Alan had sent him home saying that there was no work. Then when he arrived back home (in the Meadows) and got into bed, Alan had called him again to tell him to come straight back again.

Adam had been working with Labour Ready for over a year now, He referred to Alan as his 'boss'. I'd never really had the opportunity to chat to a person like Adam before. He was sweet, but had I not known it, I would certainly have given him a wide berth had we passed in the street.

His accent was rough, but didn't sound like Nottingham. It turned out that Adam (23) was from Essex. He'd moved to Nottingham three years ago, because one of his best mates had moved here. This same friend had died of a heart attack earlier in the year. Adam lived with his 'missus' who was originally from Kent and had three kids, none of which were Adam's. He was skint too; he worked at Labour Ready, collected his cash from the machine, spent it that night and came back the next day for more.

Given what Adam was wearing, tracky bottoms and a t-shirt I thought that maybe I was slightly over dressed. Adam explained however, that he would be working in the warehouse (he had a fork-lift truck licence), and I would be working in the little office that was attached. 'They' had asked for 'one boy and one girl'. I still had no idea where I was going...

'You got bus fare?' Adam asked. It was 3.10GBP to get out there and took 40 minutes. Fortunately I did. We got off the bus and popped into Lidl where Adam bought his lunch: six bottle of cola, fifteen packets of crisps and some 'savoury eggs'. Luckily I already had my lunch with me.

We were in the middle of a bleak industrial estate / retail park in Chillwell which is between Beeston and Long Eaton apparently. M & L Services (where we were heading), was in a modern corrugated iron warehouse at a dead end in the road, surrounded by other corrugated iron warehouses.

We went inside and I was introduced to the employees (much fewer than I had imagined). There was Carol and Martin, husband and wife who were the bosses, and their daughter Emma (21) who was the 'office manager'. There was Nicky (17) who worked in the office and Danny (20) who worked in the warehouse. There was a strange woman called Val, with lots of tattoos, who popped in and out with a boy Steven (17) who was Nicky's boyfriend - apparently they worked in another affiliated warehouse and had to get up at 4:30 every morning. Steven, Adam told me, earned 3.50GBP per hour because he was still under 18. We both agreed that we wouldn't get out of bed at 4:30 for 3.50GBP per hour!

There wasn't much for me to do at the warehouse to start off with, so I took the opportunity to have a snoop around. M & L Services, it appears, does many different things. It calls itself 'Stock Rectification Specialists' - probably one of the most ambiguous company descriptions I've ever heard. As far as I could work out there were various strands to the business.

The first is a contract with Argos supplying spare parts for all of the exercise bikes sold through their catalogue. In fact they operate the 'exercise bike helpline', the number for which is probably published in the back of the Argos manuals. In the two days that I worked at M & L Services, I didn't hear the special Argos phone ring once. I guess nobody was having problems with their bikes.

The next thing they do is a contract with 'The Cotswold Company' supplying tacky flat-packed furniture. Cotswold sends the orders through via a networked computer programme and M & L Services ship the goods out to the customers.

They also operate two eBay businesses. One selling the same tacky flat-packed furniture directly to eBay shoppers and the second under the username 'fitcamp123' selling tents - bargain tents.

The last thing that it appears they do, which perhaps could be loosely described as 'stock rectification', is assembling or packaging products. When I was there, they were processing (or maybe rectifying) an order of 5000 St Tropez tan mitts. The black mitts, apparently used for the application of fake tanning lotion and 'body polish', came in bin-bag-sized bags. The boxes came separately, flat-packed. M & L Services were responsible for assembling each box, inserting a mitt into it (folded in two) and then packing two-dozen into larger brown cardboard boxes. These boxes were labelled and then placed on a pallet. 100 boxes made a full pallet. Two-and-a-bit pallets would make the full order.

First of all, I was working in the office with Nicky and Emma. Nicky was responsible for delegating tasks to me. I was very surprised when I found out that she was only 17 - she seemed too mature and serious. Maybe that is what happens when you leave school at 16 and go straight into work. It's a sudden reality check; you have to grow up pretty damn quick. She began working there two weeks after finishing school. It felt as though she had been cheated out of several years of her childhood, stuck in this dull little office day-in day-out.

Nicky got me started inputting eBay tent orders to a spreadsheet. They had had a virus in the system the previous week and had lost over a week's worth of spreadsheets. I was re-inputting the data to recreate the lost files.

All the employees of M & L Services were slightly on edge that day because they were expecting important visitors. One of the big bosses from Argos was coming together with a Spanish business associate who I think was the man who shipped over the tacky furniture. One of the main reasons they called Labour Ready and employed myself and Adam, was to make it appear to the visitors that they had more 'permanent staff' and ran a busy and productive operation. There were certain rules that we had to adhere to when the visitors arrived:

Firstly, there was to be no mention of Labour Ready. As far as they were concerned we worked there industriously everyday. The second rule was that there was to be no mention of anything to do with eBay. I wasn't sure why, but it was obvious that the visitors had no idea that they operated this side of the business. Whether it was because they thought eBay looked unprofessional or whether there was something underhand going on, I could not tell.

The office was to be spotless, everyone dressed smartly, all eBay papers hidden from site and Nicky was to be on read alert to make drinks for them as soon as they arrived.

The day dragged on and there was still no sign of them. I had re-entered a lot of the lost data and inputted some of their recent Cotswold orders. As it neared the end of the day Nicky was fast running out of things for me to do. This was no good - I had to look busy and purposeful when the visitors arrived. While I was still in the room, Nicky, Emma and Carol discussed exactly which menial task they could find for me to do next. They were clutching at straws, when Carol suggested taking an existing spreadsheet, intentionally erasing the contents and getting me to re-input it just for the sake of it - I nearly choked.

This was all too ironic; all they wanted me to do was to look busy by working on a spreadsheet. If only they knew how much data entry I had building up for my own Prime Time spreadsheet. I was going to have to spend the best part of two hours doing that when I got home and here they were arguing about finding me some more pointless data to process. God! I was the queen of pointless data - I had pointless data up to my eyeballs!

Of course there was no way I could mention this. I was undercover which meant these two worlds could never collide. After a fair amount of discussion they found there was something not entirely useless for me to do - I had to update the 'B Grade' stock list. Using the warehouse staff's handwritten notes I was to input information about the defects found on certain pieces of furniture they had in store. I was told to 'work slowly' on it so it lasted until 'they' arrived. 'They' were stuck in traffic on the M1.

The visitors were so late that Adam and I were asked to work later til 18:15 instead of 17:30 as Alan had arranged. We didn't really have much to say in the matter, so it's just as well neither of us had other plans for after work.

When 'they' finally arrived it was all a bit of an anti-climax. They didn't really want drinks and they didn't spend more than a few seconds in the office where we were sat so diligently typing.

Shortly after 18:00 they left and Carol was able to sign our 'work tickets' without fear of being spotted colluding with a temping agency. We weren't sure whether it was a mistake, but she accidentally put 6.25 hours on our slips meaning that she paid us for out lunch break, which she not Labour Ready policy. An extra 2.57GBP hey! Almost enough to cover the bus fare.

I didn't get back til after 19:00 that night. After dinner I started my own data inputting on the Prime Time spreadsheet. Every entry was a struggle, but I forced myself to plough though it, going on and on forever. An hour-and-a-half into it I was exhausted. I stared at the screen and began breathing deeply and heavily and then more rapidly until I began to hyper-ventilate. What was happening to me? Was this a spreadsheet induced panic attack? I sure felt like it. I felt so trapped, my room was such a tip there was stuff all over my bed, there was nowhere to go. Eventually Jon found my and made me wash my hands and face. He cleared my bed and put me in it.

18 July 2006

The Cobra Group

The following text is different from the rest of the day diaries, in that it was written in the heat of the moment on the evening of the actual day the main event described took place - Tuesday 18 July. It outlines some of the back stories (replicated in previous day diary entries) in order to contextualise events, so that it can also read as a standalone piece.

On Wednesday 12 July, after discovering that I was no longer required at Gleeds, the construction company where I had worked as an office temp the week previous, I bought a copy of the Evening Post. Wednesday was the day for the weekly recruitment section.

Reading through the paper, I quickly discovered that many of the jobs were things that were skilled, permanent or would not start for a few weeks. Nothing that would suit my needs as an employee of Prime. Now two-and-a-half weeks into the commissioning period I required something immediate and temporary. I had already planned that my last working day would be Friday 21 July.

The only jobs I could find that had the words I was looking for in the specs 'no experience necessary' and 'immediate start', were mysterious looking - attracting your attention with catchphrases and claims of high earning. There was no mention of the company you would be working for or the job you might be doing.

The next day I called two these numbers (I have both these conversations on tape). The first turned out to be a marketing company called Endeva Advertising. I spoke to a friendly Australian lady called Belinda. She asked me what experience I had and why I wanted to work for them. I found the second a little difficult to answer, as I didn't really know anything about the company, but just made up the usual nonsense about learning new skills and meeting new people.

Belinda seemed pleased with my responses and offered me an interview the following day, Friday 14 July. I was really pleased, at this rate I might be able to start on Monday and to clock up some more hours towards the 'quota' imposed by Prime.

By this point of the commissioning period, I had pretty much given up caring what sort of work I was looking for. I'd do anything and I'd do it now (at least that's what I thought). The situation (being employed by Prime) reminded me of when I was a 15 year old; when the national curriculum dictated that I must find 'work experience' for the final two weeks of the academic year (coincidently the last weeks in July!)

When it came to the point when I had to find this 'work experience' I started with high hopes. Idealistic (in a similar way to the start of Prime), that I could find something 'interesting' and 'relevant'. When I discovered that this was a lot harder than I imagined, my expectations dropped to the point that I would, in fact, do anything. In the end my dear mother stepped in and found me a role at the college that she worked in - Uxbridge College. I spent two weeks as a scivvy for one of her colleagues, photocopying and having tasks fabricated, with the sole intention of occupying my time.

History aside, my spirits lifted when I secured my interview at Endeva Advertising. After my experience at Gleeds (which I now realise I was exceptionally lucky to find), I was quite looking forward to working in the office of a city centre advertising company.

I turned up for my interview on Friday about 10 minutes early. The office was in an old building above Cafe Rouge on Barker Gate, which is one of the most expensive shopping streets in the city. I rang the intercom and Belinda buzzed me in. I walked up the stairs and into the reception. There were nine people sitting around in what was quite a small, but pleasant room. Could they all be here for the interview? It transpires that they were. I had to complete an application form. I decided to go for broke and write that I had a degree and was self employed as a 'freelance artist'. I really wanted to get this job and it looked like I had a lot of competition. I also had to rate myself out of 5 for things like 'communication skills' and 'self confidence' I went for 5 for most of them (why not?)

Belinda, who sat behind a desk, was in a jolly mood. She kept throwing questions out to the nine of us, as if to make one big happy conversation. What are you lot all doing this afternoon then? Who do you reckon is getting kicked out of Big Brother this evening? Or how long have I got to put up with this cricket for (referring to the radio commentary)? These all sound more authentic in an Australian accent - please try at home.

I couldn't help but feel that I was already being tested. Were the ones who responded to Belinda's chitchat, the ones more likely to be employed? There was a wide range of magazines on the table, some 'men's magazines' like GQ and Esquire, some 'women's' like Elle and Red and some 'unisex' like Empire. Would you also be judged on the magazine you picked up? I went for Empire. I giggled to myself about the conspiracy theories I had concocted, but also, more importantly, because I (more than anybody else in the room), had a secret agenda for being there on that day.

A tall man came into the office and called four of us out for the interview. We followed him into a small board room, where he said 'sit wherever you like' - another test I thought; there were five normal chairs and one larger, more ostentatious office chair. Each of the candidates, including myself went for the regular chairs around the sides of the table. Chris (the tall man) sat at one end and his colleague Nick sat at the other (in the big chair).

The interview focussed almost entirely on the information we had supplied on our forms. He quizzed us each one-by-one about the information we had supplied, questioning whether we had been correct to rate ourselves so highly. One man, who was Polish, stood up half way through this process, said 'sorry I have to go' and left. I didn't blame him really, it was quite an intimidating experience and Chris was quite an authoritarian character (despite being only 25).

He explained that Endeva Advertising was 'his company' and that it was a 'fun place to work'. He was only looking to employ a few people and was interviewing 34, so it was very competitive. If we were successful today, we would be invited back for a 'second interview' in which we would spend a day shadowing one of the sales team and learning more about the company. Either way, we would find out later today when Belinda would call us.

Around 19:00, I began to think that I hadn't got the job and that nobody was going to call. I began to resign myself to the fact that I was unemployable and good for nothing. Then at 20:12 my mobile began to ring - it was Belinda, what was she doing still at work at this time on a Friday night? She said 'Chris was very pleased with how it went today and would like to invite you back for a second interview on Tuesday' - I was to go back to the office for 11:45.

It was nice of them to give me a late start on my first day, I thought, very considerate. I spent the most part of the weekend feeling guilty. If I got the job on Tuesday (they had said in the interview that they were looking to employ temporary staff for 10-12 weeks), I would have to quit almost straight away. I was going to feel awful after Belinda and Chris had been so nice to me and had taken a chance on inviting me back.

Anyway, Tuesday arrived and the thought of letting them down, was still in my mind as I walked towards the office. When I got to reception, I was surprised to see that there were as many, if not more, people waiting. We sat patiently as Belinda carried on her one-sided banter. I chatted to the girl next to me, asking her if she knew anything about what the job actually involved. She said she didn't. The longer we waited the more curious I became.

After about half-an-hour, Chris's right-hand man, Nick, came into the room and called a few out, explaining that we would each be paired off with a sales person to shadow. After a few minutes, I saw some of the interviewees leaving the building with their work partners. Then it was my turn. I was taken out to the back and introduced to a short, fat, bald man called Barry. I was told to stick with Barry all day and to ask as many questions as I wanted. Then later on I would be brought back to the office for a 'final interview' based on what I had learnt.

At this point I asked what time that would be and I was told 8-9ish (!?) I was now beginning to understand why they didn't ask me to start at 9:00. What could we possibly be doing that would take us until then? Barry led me out of the room and down the stairs. He said we were going to get some lunch first. This is nice, I thought, a nice relaxing lunch to get to know each other before beginning work.

It quickly transpired that we were following two of the other work pairs, with two of the other interviewees. One was the girl who had sat next to me in reception, Becky, an 18 year old who had just left boarding school after finishing her A-Levels, and a black guy called Benedict who was a college student in Nottingham.

As we walked between the office and Flavour Sandwich Bar in Hockley, I began to quiz Barry about what we would be doing. He was very cagey at first, not giving me entirely straight answers. I asked when we would be going back to the office and he said we wouldn't. What? I eventually began to piece things together. What we would actually be doing, was walking around St Ann's (one of Nottingham's poorest areas), going door-to-door asking people to sign up to pay a direct debit to a charity called Action for the Blind.

I began to feel quite angry that I had been tricked into this situation. I was now about to embark on a day of door-to-door salesman work on what was then the hottest day of the year so far. Why hadn't they told us what we would be doing beforehand: I was angry that I had no water, no suntan lotion and a heavy bag on me and I was about to spend the next seven-and-a-half hours traipsing through the streets.

Marketing company? I was beginning to realise how foolish I had been. They weren't interviewing that many people because the jobs were so competitive, but rather, because they were desperate to find people to do this work - probably the most degrading, tedious and soulless job on the planet.

At this point, I could (and under any other circumstances I would), have upped and left - accusing them of misleading me and of time wasting. But I didn't. As an employee of Prime, I saw this 'second interview' as valuable hours, in fact a whole day's work, to rack up against my 'quota'. Actually it had everything I desired. I could 'work', no strings attached for a day. Then at the end of the day, feeling no guilt towards a company which had misled me so cruelly, I could just leave. Perfect. So with this in mind I embraced my new role.

Barry explained more about the company as we walked towards the target area of streets, a little way out of town. First and foremost, you did not get paid. You did not get paid a penny unless you signed people up to the charity. They termed this 'a piece'. For every piece, you received 17GBP. You therefore worked to goals, aiming to get five pieces a day, earning yourself a tidy 85GBP. However, there was one small catch called the 'bond'. For every piece you get, 8GBP of your 17GBP fee gets held by the company in the bond. If the customer cancels their direct debit within three months, you do not get this part of the fee - meaning you have to wait three months to find out whether you will or will not earn the full 17GBP.

Immediately my mind went to the charities, just how much are they forking out for this service? Well as far as I could work out it breaks down like this. The Cobra Group is a multi-national company which runs thousands of smaller 'offices' all over the world, like the one in Nottingham - Endeva Advertising. They find the clients, like the charities, credit card companies, electricity providers etc. They then supply the offices with the clients - Endeva Advertising is solely focussed on 'charity work'.

The companies, or in this case the charities pay The Cobra Group a set fee for every customer they sign up (or for every 'piece', as I now like to say). I was not given a set figure for this, as Barry didn't know it, but I'm guessing it is around 40-45GBP. The Cobra Group takes a cut of this fee and passes on 33GBP to the 'office' - Endeva Advertising. Endeva take a cut and pass on 17GBP to the sales representative (me). Then if the sale is cancelled within the three month period, the 8GBP is taken from person at the bottom of the chain (the sales representative) and refunded directly back to the client (the charity). Therefore the charity only has to fork out around 32-37GBP for failed attempts. The two middle men don't suffer either way.

What you end up with, is a load of people working for free. Not because it's for 'charity', but because some fat-cat middle men (at The Cobra Group and Chris at Endeva Advertising) are skimming off all the profits. After a while I began to realise that it wasn't really that bad for the charities to invest their marketing budget in this sort of 'direct marketing', because the results were (percentage wise), so much better than any leafleting campaign could ever hope for - that is why they do it. It did make me realise, however, that I never want to support a 'big charity' that gives money away to scum like The Cobra Group.

So what's in it for the Sales representatives you may well ask? Why do they slog away Monday - Friday, 12:00 - 20:30 and Saturday afternoon every week, with no job security and no knowing what they will earn from one week to the next? There must be a carrot on the end of a stick somewhere? Well there is and it's called promotion, working your way up in the company until you become like Chris, managing director of his own 'office' earning, as they kept telling me, up to 50,000GBP per week! (Wow I am so excited... hmmm). Well we all know were this money comes from.

At around 15:00 the team reconvened in a dodgy pub in St Ann's for 'a break'. We all have a drink as we are pretty hot, burnt and exhausted already by then. Barry buys my drink for me, out of his own money no doubt. During 'the break', Dave, who is the furthest up the ladder of the rest of the team, explains the promotional structure to me. Stage 1 (where I am now), to stage 5 where Chris is - can be achieved in just 18 months. When you are at Stage 4, as Nick is, you are allowed to break away and start your own 'office'. To do this you are expected to save (out of your own earnings) 10,000GBP to invest. This way, these individuals believe they are running their 'own businesses' and The Cobra Group has to lay out no money whatsoever to expand. God they are bastards!

But you can't keep expanding indefinitely, I asked - soon you will run out of doors to knock on. Dave assures me there is plenty of room for expansion; in fact London currently only has 8 offices!

When we arrived for a break there was no sign of Becky. She had complained about wearing unsuitable shoes, of sore feet and had gone. I knew the moment I found out what we were doing that she would hate it. The irony is that in the reception whilst waiting, we had had a conversation about 'hideous sales jobs' not knowing what we were letting ourselves in for. At the end of the break, with still four hours to go before the end of play, Benedict makes some excuse about college work and ups and leaves too! And then there was one - I wasn't about to leave. Despite the heat, it was easy work just watching Barry in action and because of Prime it just happened that I was the only person getting paid to be there.

So then we got back to work. During the three hours before the break, we covered 3 streets, knocking on around 60 houses and speaking to about 25 people. Barry has the banter down to a tee and says the same thing every time. Despite his cheery persona we are yet to make a single 'piece'. We soldier on. Barry's tactic is to knock on the door. When the person opens the door (if they do), he says, chuckling, 'hello, have you had a nice day?' then 'don't worry, we're not as bad as we look, we're doing some work in the local area for blind people (pointing at his 'chugger' vest, with the words 'Action for the Blind' printed on it). 'We're not collecting today, don't worry... do you know anyone who is blind or partially sighted? You can imagine how hard it can be to do the little things we take for granted, like reading, writing or making a cup of tea... it can be very scary. So I take it you think what we are doing today is a good thing?' to which they invariable answer 'yes'.

'There is a catch to what we are doing' Barry confesses, 'we need to raise £6000 per week so that the charity can carry on its good work... Now we're not asking you to donate all of that, though it would be nice if you would!' (chuckle). 'We're just asking everyone to chip in a very small amount'. The next bit is said very quickly indeed. 'We're asking you to-in-about-four-or-five-weeks-time-to-chip-in-something-small-like-one-pound-fifty-at-the-end-of-each-week-for-as-long-as-you-want-to... we have just a very simple form to fill out, it all goes directly through the bank, because nobody wants to see my face round here every week!' (chuckle). 'This way you can be sure all the money goes directly to the charity and so the government also contribute via Gift Aid. So what we're doing today is just filling out a very simple form, so I guess I can count you in on this one - have you got a flat surface to fill out the form?'

32 out of 33 times that day, this final question was met with a variety of excuses. 'I'll have to ask my husband', 'I can't afford it', 'I already give to charity', 'I don't give my bank details out to people knocking at my door'. Most of which I found completely valid, and in fact I would have happily used myself had the tables been turned.

The one woman that we did sign up was a young Asian mother; I couldn't help but feel guilty for colluding in the abduction of her bank details. What upset me the most was the fact that a lot of people actually saw us as do-gooders who actually cared about blind people - voluntary charity workers giving up our time for the good of the cause. The sad thing is that we were both (until Barry got his piece) voluntary workers, not because of the goodness of our hearts, but in Barry's case because of his greed and desire to climb the promotional ladder, and in mine because I had been commissioned to take part in an art project that required me to work.

At about 18:00, Barry and I stopped for a break. We had completed our first circuit and were about to knock again on the doors of all the houses who had not answered the first time. Barry and I had got on pretty well, really, all things considered. We had had a laugh when Barry (with Dave on backing beat box) sang me his 'Pork Pie Rap'. 'Go Barry, it's your pork pie, you're gonna eat it like it's your pork-pie. B to the A to the double R, Y - go Barry'. I had a little go (despite being a closet vegetarian) substituting Barry for Ellie 'E to the double L, I, E - go Ellie!'

During our chat, in which we ate Smartie Ice creams donated to us by a do-gooder who felt guilty for not signing up, Barry asked me 'what did I think so far?'. When faced with question as direct as this I couldn't lie, I couldn't pretend any longer - it would look ridiculous if I pretended now that I loved the job and then did a complete U-turn two-and-a-half hours later in the office face-to-face with Chris. Barry deserved better than that. So I told the truth. 'To be honest, I don't think I can see my self doing this... I don't think I have the motivation to keep myself going every day... I can see there are great opportunities (ha, ha) in terms of the promotional structure, but seeing that I am just looking for temporary work, I wouldn't be with the company long enough to benefit from them'.

Barry looked sad, you could tell he was disappointed if not slightly offended. I continued 'I wanted to see today through, as I don't like to quit at things (like the other two)... it has been a really interesting experience'. After a few minutes, Barry asked whether, given the way I feel now, I thought it was worth continuing with the 'second interview' and working the houses til 20:30. I looked at my watch (it was 18:16) and then at my sun burn and decided well actually it probably wasn't. So I wished Barry the best, thanked him for letting me tag along and wished him good luck with the rest of the night's work. I turned, rounded the corner and walked home.

Second Interview

This was the day of the infamous 'second interview' with Endeva Advertising. It is described in detail in The Cobra Group text publish above. Here I recall a few additional observations from this day.

Before I had the interview I couldn't help but feel guilty about the possibility of letting them down. Given that it was the last week of 'Part-time', I would have to tell them that I could only work the four remaining days and that I would have to leave early on Friday to catch my train to Abergavenny for the Hen Weekend I had been invited to.

This thought preoccupied me from the first interview on Friday 14 July up until the exact moment I discovered what I had been lured into - door-to-door sales. Then I felt no guilt whatsoever.

We sat in the waiting room for a long while, there were at least ten other candidates in there. As we waited Trent FM blared out of a small stereo. Every five minutes the hideous radio adverts kicked in. As we sat there in silence, I was amused that two of these adverts directly addressed 'unemployed people', 'looking for work?', promoting job fairs that were forthcoming in the autumn.

I looked around the room as if to make eye contact and share the coincidence with one of my fellow job seekers, but nobody seemed to notice.

During the day, I tried my best to maintain my Log Book with the start and end times of each activity we undertook. I was desperate to take photographs - it would have been fantastic to have just one action shot of Barry going door-to-door, chatting with people, but I was too full of fear. I could be lynched if they found out what I was really up to.

On several occasions, Barry caught me writing in my Log Book. At first he jokingly commented 'you're not one of those undercover reporters are you?' I assured him that I was not and that I was simply making notes for my interview that evening with Chris. However the fact that Barry had asked this question in the first place, was rather telling.

- Had this happened to them before - an undercover reporter attending one of their training days and writing an expose?
- Or was Barry secretly admitting to the fact that there was a story here - that Endeva Advertising deserved to be exposed?

When Barry was convinced that there was nothing untoward with my note taking, he changed his tact - repeatedly suggesting that in actually fact 'you're writing my autobiography' (sic). He even told the others this over break.

At several points in the day, I expressed my anger at being dragged into this situation without pre-warning. At 'break time' Dave had the cheek to respond with this: 'the reason we do it like this is so that people get a real feel for the job, see exactly what we do, before they start work. Have you ever been to an interview for a job and then started the next day and discovered it was not what you thought it would be?' to which I replied 'yes! Today! I came to an interview on Friday for a job, which to all intent-and-purposes looked like an office job for a marketing company, and now here I am four days later training to be a door-to-door salesperson!'

I don't think me and Dave would ever see eye-to-eye. When he gave me 'the chat' at break time, he talked about training staff with sales skills. He explained that once you learned the skills you could sell anything you wanted: credit cards, electricity supplies, breakdown cover (all products marketed by other Cobra Group offices).

If you say so Dave, but it's one thing to go door-to-door trying to get people to sign up to a charity and quite another to get them to sign up to a credit card. Dave insisted that it was not, that it was exactly the same. He was not able to acknowledge that morally these to acts were wildly different.

17 July 2006

Feedback Anti-Climax

This morning I finally managed to speak to Andy Chamberlain, the middle aged man from E.ON who had interviewed me for the meter installation job back on Wednesday 28 June. It had taken around eight phone calls over the course of the three weeks to get to this point, so boy was I ready for some life changing words of wisdom! Unfortunately the 'feedback' didn't really live up to expectation (or the price of the phone calls for that matter). All he could tell me was that 'I did not score high enough'. Every question I had answered was scored out of 10, my total score was then totted up and compared with the other candidates and unfortunately was not high enough to be selected. He reassured me, however, that there was nothing glaringly wrong. Apparently I had passed the colour blind and tool tests, which was nice to know.

Apart from final retrieving my 'feedback' from E.ON, today was a quiet day for 'Part-time'. I had my appointment at the dermatology clinic booked for 11:45, which meant I was unable to go back to Labour Ready first thing. I had my 'second interview' with Endeva Advertising lined up for Tuesday, which would hopefully be a good day's work, so I spent this Monday catching up on things. I spent several hours writing day diary entries, managing to complete up to Thursday 13 July.

In the morning my final set of Panini World Cup stickers (which I had requested on the swap forum website) arrived from Switzerland - this was the last lot I was waiting for. I now only needed 48 more, which meant I could send a cheque to Panini stating the numbers I required and I could finally complete my album. It was a really satisfying moment - this sticker book had become an obsession, which had wasted so much (days even), of my time. Finally I would be free from it!

In the evening we went to Broadway Cinema to watch Thank You For Smoking. I get free cinema tickets when I'm not working, so try to see as many films as possible.

16 July 2006

Ebay Marathon

Several weeks ago I had been asked to take part in an edition of the fanzine Leisure Centre with the theme Mass-Observation. They were asking artists to keep a diary of their day on Wednesday 12 July.

Naturally I had already kept a diary of sorts in my Prime Time Log Book and spreadsheet. I had, at my disposal, a complete list of all the activities I performed on that day. All I needed to do now was to find a way to visualise and present the information. I would use this as a mini test to see how I could begin to deal with all the data when I had completed the four week study.

I decided to make a pie chart showing an exact breakdown, over a 24 hour period, of all the activities I carried out. I had to get this done today as the deadline was Monday. After swimming and posting our letter of unionisation to Prime, I started work.

Unsurprisingly, the results showed that I spent the majority of this time sleeping, followed a close second by sitting in front of a computer (see above). When these Leisure Centre pages were completed and emailed off, we took a long overdue trip to the Co-op to get some groceries - an activity I don't perform perhaps quite as often as I should.

When I got back, I set about on my eBay-a-thon. I had been saving up items for this for quite sometime, but also collected a good few from Jon. My intentions for doing this were mixed:

- Firstly, I was keen to get rid of some stuff.
- Secondly, I had planned from the beginning of 'Part-time' that I would aim to carry out a certain number of 'normal activities' during the four week monitoring period. I made a list of things which included: eBaying items, filing my Tax Return, going to Ikea and doing a few DIY jobs etc. The aim was to add variation and an element of 'normality' to the study and to put a deadline on getting these things done.
- Finally, after finding it so difficult to find regular employment, eBaying 14 different items was also an experiment in other methods of earning a living.

I went about it as though a military operation - methodically completing the necessary stages required to list each item:

- I photographed each against a white background in a mini studio set up by the window in the living room.
- I then wrote descriptions for each of them including my standard 'Happy bidding!' and 'Check out my other auctions for other bits-and-bobs!'
- I then weighed each all the items and calculated fair postage rates for each.
- I processed all the images: tarting them up, cropping, and rotating to make them look as professional as possible.
- Finally I was ready to upload all the information onto the website, deciding what category they should each be in and starting the auctions off at 99p.

Three-and-a-half hours later it was done! The auctions would last seven days and would come to an end on the evening of the final day of 'Part-time' (Sunday 23 July) and would act as a conclusion of sorts.

Week Three Final Hours Slip

15 July 2006

Sport Relief

Today I had a bit of rest bite from the frenzied world of job seeking and recruitment. We were registered to take part in the Sport Relief Mile along the Victoria Embankment by the River Trent. We left and walked down to the start line. The race was easier than I anticipated and I completed it in 9 minutes 34 seconds.

When I got home I discovered that the stickers had arrived from the online swapping forum. I was now only expecting one last set to arrive from a collector in Switzerland to push me below the 50-to-go mark, when it would then be possible to send off to Panini for the remaining few.

I was down to do the Saturday Matinee again at Broadway Cinema in Screen 2, normally reserved for a kid's film. It was baking outside so sitting in an air conditioned cinema for a couple of hours was a very relaxing experience. It was a film that I had never heard of before called Eight Below. This is another great thing about being an usher - getting the opportunity to watch films that you may not otherwise have chosen to watch. This turned out to be a great story about a rescue mission to an Antarctican research base in the depths of winter - the seasonal choice.

I finished work at 18:30. That evening I was exhausted. I had an early night. I had been planning, for a few weeks, to do some serious eBaying on Sunday...

14 July 2006

Call Centre Hell

Today stared with a surprise call from E.ON - could this finally be the feedback that I was after? I fumbled around to set up my audio recording equipment, only to find that it was only Helen Weaver (the woman who had written to me initially). She said that she had finally got permission to give me the mobile phone number of Andy Chamberlain, the man who had actually interviewed me almost two-and-a-half weeks ago.

I called him around lunchtime to be told that he was 'driving without hands free' and couldn't have a long conversation. He asked me to call him back in the morning of Monday 17 July when he would definitely be able to give me my feedback. At least I finally had a clear answer out of them, this feedback sure better live up to the expectation.

I began to get ready for my interviews. At 13:20 Belinda from Endeva Advertising called to check that I was still set for the interview. This was the second time she had called to check up on me - she must be very well organised. I was secretly beginning to look forward to working with her if I was successful.

But first I had to get through my visit to Unicom, which I was most definitely not looking forward to. It was a really hot day; I walked through town in my new red shirt and black trousers (smart clothes) in the blazing sunshine. The office was on Friar Lane, just off Old Market Square. I couldn't remember the exact address so I spent around 10 minutes walking up and down, looking at intercom buttons and signs above doors.

It was then that I began to notice all the employment agencies on that road, there must have been at least six within a stone's throw - god they were everywhere! Thorn Baker, DK Associates, Premiere People, Harper Recruitment etc

It was so strange that I had never noticed them before, but suddenly they were everywhere I looked - what a massive industry job seeking must be. Eventually I found Unicom on the Second floor of Vernon House. I rang the intercom and was buzzed in.

As soon as I walked into the office, I was gob-smacked by how horrible it was - it is amazing to think that places like this exist all around the city, above street level, without anybody knowing a thing about it. It was a large open plan space with a series of drab tables in the centre. It was grotty and had the feel of a run down oversized class room. On the tables, all facing towards the centre, sat around 25 young men and women, frantically picking up their receivers, dialling, speaking and putting them down again.

Standing up and pacing about were several older men in shirts and ties over-seeing the operation - like ringmasters in a circus. One was marking a large white board which was attached to the end wall - crossing off 'targets' or some such, while the other moved around casting a watchful eye over proceedings.

Norman Peck was there, but he didn't interview me. He gave me and application form to complete and sat me at a desk at the other side of the room. The form was only two sides, but I really struggled with it. I just could not muster any enthusiasm. After I finally finished, a funny looking mulleted guy called Steve came over and sat in front of me, ready to start the interview. Norman sat behind us at another desk simultaneously interviewing a young boy for the same job.

Steve was a remarkable man, certainly well versed in 'talking the talk'. He explained to me about the work (this was similar to what Norman had told me on the phone) and drew me a diagram of the 'payment structure' - explaining how much I 'could earn' if I made enough appointments. The actual job involved make appointments with people at the business you called, for the field representatives to go out and clinch the deal. If you made an appointment, yet they couldn't clinch it you didn't get paid your commission.

A little way into the interview Steve went for the jugular - he ask me whether I thought I'd be up for it and whether I'd be able to do it. To which I answered, obviously not as convincingly as I could have, 'I'm sure I could give it a go - everyone here seems to be really psyched up and I'm sure I would get into it too'.

At this point my ears drifted over to the conversation going on behind between Norman and the young boy. Norman had pulled a generic letter off the desk in front of us - an offer of employment - and was now completing it ready to present to the young boy. Meanwhile Steve was explaining to me a very different procedure for following up after interviews.

On my application form, in the column dubbed 'For Office Use Only' he wrote the words 'we'll call you' and then said them to me. He then began to awkwardly underline these words over and over like a nervous doodle. As if they would be calling me next week to offer me a job.

He suggested I look at the website in the meantime and gave it a little more thought. He then got up and left. He allowed me to sit at the desk for a few minutes as I read through the Unicom reference file I had been given. During this time I checked the coast was clear and reached forward and snaffled 'the letter' (published above). I got up to leave and went over to Steve to say goodbye. We shook hands and looked each other in the eye, at that point we both knew full well that we would never see or hear from each other again.

I walked from Unicom straight to Endeva Advertising photographing employment agencies as I went. I noticed a large 'Recruiting Now' poster on the side of the new Primark store, opening in September - mush too late for me. My interview with Endeva Advertising is recounted in detail in The Cobra Group entry on this blog.

That night I chatted to Joanna on Skype. She had drafted our letter of unionisation, a union logo, website and had bought the URL for the Union of Undercover Artists. We made plans about how to get the letter to Steven and Prime as soon as possible. I would print the PDF and take it to the sorting office to catch the Sunday collection - Steven should have it by Monday morning.

13 July 2006

Job Seeking HQ

Today was a major job seeking day. I approached the task as if a political campaign, setting up a small head quarters on the dining table. I had my notebook, Log Books, phone, audio recording equipment and the all important recruitment section from the Evening Post.

First of all I made my (now near-daily) call to E.ON to attempt to obtain feedback on my unsuccessful interview of over two weeks ago (Wednesday 28 June). Again I was told that nobody was available to talk to me. I was getting extremely frustrated with the situation by now, as something which they had offered in the letter of rejection, which I had wrongly assumed would be pretty simple, had turned into a mammoth saga of phone calls (all of which I recorded). I was promised that someone would call me later that day.

That morning I had received a letter offering me a long awaited appointment at the dermatology clinic at Sneinton Health Centre for the coming Monday 17 July. This meant I need to get hold of Janine to find out for sure whether or not I would be working on Monday in the office at Nottingham Trent University. I rang Janine three times and left three messages, each time she also was unable to speak to me.

I then called the Powergen recruitment hotline and completed my 15 question multiple choice interview for the customer service call centre job. At the end, much to my relief, I was told that I had passed and that they were now in a position to offer me a place on the training day. Unfortunately it could not be until 1 August, over a week after the end of 'Part-time'! This was maddening after all the time I'd spent on the phone to them (all of these conversations were also recorded). She said she would send confirmation in the post - I thought it would be easier to wait until I'd received the letter and then just cancel nearer the time.

I then called the first of two adverts I had circled in the paper. They were both mysterious looking, neither mentioning the names of the companies you might end up working for - did they have something to hide?

I rang and spoke to a person called Belinda, not Amber as mentioned in the advert. I suspected Amber was some sort of code, so they knew where you found out about the job. Belinda was a friendly Australian lady who called me 'darlin' a lot. She asked me why I was interested in working for them - I didn't have a clue who 'they' were, so just blagged it. Eventually she offered me an interview for the following day at 15:00. The company was called Endeva Advertising and was based right in the middle of town. I was told to bring a CV and to dress reasonably smartly. Success.

I then called the next advert on the list bearing the tag line 'Earn More Than Your Parents'. A man answered and took down my details, checking whether I was over 18 and available to work from 9:00 - 18:00 weekdays. He said that someone would call me back within the hour. Norman Peck returned the call. He asked for all my details and it transpired, after I gave him my address, that he knew someone who lived in our block of flats. He was attempting to be very matey with me - this was obviously just one of his 'sales techniques' as he later quizzed me on how I would approach someone, over the phone, should I want to sell them something. He told me the secret was 'to relate to them on their own level' (IE be all matey).

The more Norman explained what the job entailed, the more unenthusiastic I became. I would be working in a call centre for a telecoms company called Unicom. I would be cold calling small businesses asking them to switch their telephone provider to Unicom and 'save up to half on bills'. He explained that the basic salary was 833GBP, but on top of that you got commission for every business you signed up.

I forced myself to sound excited about the prospect of doing such a vile job and Norman invited me in for an interview the next day at 14:00. When I asked Norman what I should bring he just said 'yourself and a smile - we are looking for interesting individuals who are prepared to get stuck-in and be enthusiastic'. Semi-success.

With two interviews now lined up for the next day I felt rather pleased with myself. I decided to give the phone a break for a bit and got on with writing day diaries in my notebook, and identifying a few recurring themes - activities or sagas which have been ongoing throughout the four week Prime Time period. For example the E.ON saga, the Specsavers saga, the dermatology clinic (count yourself lucky I haven't gone into much detail about these two) Panini stickers, the World Cup and discussions about the Union of Undercover Artists.

By the late afternoon, having not heard from E.ON as they promised I called again to see what on earth was going on. They apologised to me and said that someone would definitely get back to me soon.

That night I had another shift at Broadway Cinema - it was a quiet Thursday night where I got to watch two films I hadn't yet seen - Russian Dolls and Election, a Hong Kong film about the election process in the triads.

During the first film I tucked into my packed dinner, whilst sat in the back row. This is something I often do when working through a meal time. I often also get self-conscious when eating something with a strong smell and today's leftover daal and rice was no exception. After a few whispers and glances (when about half-way through my Tupperware), I decided it was best to eat the rest later. I put the lid back on and the smell quickly dispersed.

Between the two films I had a short 10 minute break. I listened to an answer phone message from Janine, who had called at 17:32. She apologised for not getting back to me sooner and said she should be able to get some 'feedback' from NTU about the job. Hmmm... not good news. Feedback is something usually only reserved for failed attempts... well at least I had my interviews to look forward to...

12 July 2006


I went swimming early this morning. Having not heard from Janine since Monday, it looked as though Barker Ross had not been able to come up with the goods a second time around with the NTU job. I was therefore on a new mission to do more job seeking. While I was waiting for my interview in the Barker Ross offices last Monday a Polish couple had come in asking for 'factory work'. The receptionist told them that they didn't deal with that sort of work, but recommend a place which did called Turner Stubbs.

Recalling this and thinking that factory work would be easier to find at such short notice and for the short period of time I was requiring, I looked up the number in the Yellow Pages. I called and registered my details there-and-then.

That day, purely coincidentally I received a Spam email with the subject 'home job'. I was instantly drawn to it. I read through, amused by its blatant spam-like tone, but also intrigued about what would happen if I replied.

I did so from my Hotmail account, so as not to illicit more Spam at my main email address as a result. Later that day I received a reply with more details about vacancies in Australia. It was so dodgy; the company Tollis Co. was Polish masquerading as an antique dealership. The job advertised involved excepting payments from local clients and then transferring them into the Tollis account.

I had nothing to lose, so I replied again asking if they had any jobs based in the UK. Two days later I received another email, this time only one line, simply saying 'no'. Ha! I couldn't even get a shitty spam job with a bunch of rip off merchants! Was there really any hope for me?

After lunch I popped to the corner shop to buy a copy of the Evening Post. I rushed back home and spent an hour scouring through for suitable jobs. I was disappointed at how many 'proper' jobs were advertised - with the council, the universities of at local hospitals. Nothing for a loser like me to get at short notice with the hope of starting first thing Monday. Out of the whole paper there were only a handful of potentials.

One was at Powergen, working as a customer services person in a call centre. They had a recruitment hotline, which I decided to call. I was told that I could complete the application over the phone, but that it would take about half-an-hour. I needed to get ready for work so I said I would call back later.

I arrived at Broadway Cinema at 14:45. I was told as soon as I got there that the event, which was another end-of-term schools special, had been delayed. I wasn't going to be needed until 16:00, but they would pay me as rota-ed from 14:45 - 17:30. Fantastic!

I just wanted to find somewhere quiet where I could sit down and write some more day diaries. There wasn't anywhere in the Broadway building, as the place is in a complete mess at the moment. It is being refurbished and extended with two new screens added. It is basically a noisy, dusty building site, which happens to have two functioning cinemas inside it (most peculiar).

So I left Broadway for just over an hour. I went to a pub in town called The Priory, bought a drink and sat in the beer garden writing in my notebook. That day I got through a few more days' diary entries and in doing so I ran out my pink Muji pen that I'd had for a year-and-a-half.

I went back to work and opened Screen 1. The event was so late in starting that I had another 20 minutes on my own upstairs waiting outside the screen. I took the opportunity to take a few photos of the cinema and the usher's chair to document my working environment (these are published on this blog).

The guests started arriving about 16:25. It was a strange event where Chillwell School were premiering a short film they had made for a media project. There were lots of school children, teachers and proud parents flooding in to take their seats. They had also invited some 'celebrity guests' who were quite entertaining.

They were Elton John, Pavarotti, Simon Cowell and Ozzy Osborne look-a-likes. One of whom (Ozzy), kissed me on the hand on his way in. They screened their film, for which the credits featuring all the kids' names, lasted nearly as long as the action. Then they left. There wasn't that much mess (I found a pen on the floor, which is always a bonus). I was ready to leave at 17:30.

That evening I called Powergen again and went through the first stages of my application. I was then booked in for a multiple choice test the following day, which I had to complete in order to be accepted onto the training programme. With this, alongside the other jobs I'd seen advertised, I knew I'd be making a lot of calls the next day.

11 July 2006

Walk In The Park

Today I didn't have any employment at all. I started off by going for a jog, in preparation for running the Sport Relief Mile on Saturday 15 July. Following last night's financial frenzy, I decided to file and re-order my bank statements. At 11:30 a parcel arrived that contained (three-and-a-half months after the event) my fund raising gifts for taking part in the Swimathon - I wondered what on earth I was going to do with them.

At lunch I was fed up with being stuck inside behind my computer, so I took my notebook and Log Books and went to the park across the road. I sat under a tree for two-and-a-half hours writing day diary entries (published on this blog) in my notebook. Whilst tenaciously scribbling away, a cheeky pigeon perched above me, took the opportunity to relieve itself on my notebook.

I had previously received a dousing from a pigeon in 1994 whilst on my way to my GCSE Latin exam. Although at first annoyed, I proceeded to take the exam with the small stain remaining on my shoulder. When I received my results a few months later I was gob-smacked to discover I had got a grade A. I never washed that shirt again and wore it to all the other exams I ever took.

So given that I have recently been a bit down about working as an artist, I decided to view this little piece of pigeon poo as another lucky omen - something that would help me through the tough times and bring some good fortune in the future.

I completed my first week's worth of day diaries while I was sat there. With each one I felt the burden lessen slightly - the information was now safe. Removed from an unsecured place (my mind) to be permanently inscribed on the pages of the notebook (and eventually on this blog). All I now had to do was plough on, plough through the days and plough through the diary entries until the whole four weeks had been immortalised.

In the evening we went back to Broadway Cinema to watch an excellent film called Junebug. I like the fact that I can happily spend my leisure time in my place of work. There aren't many jobs where you get to do that.

10 July 2006

School's Out For Summer

Today was my second major shift at Broadway Cinema. Last week I had called E.ON to ask for feedback on my unsuccessful interview of Wednesday 28 June. They had told me that they didn't have this information to hand and that someone would call me back. I had intended to record this conversation when it took place, but nobody had yet been in touch. So before leaving for work, I called again to obtain the feedback. Again I was told that nobody was available to speak to me at this time and that again someone would contact me.

I got to Broadway at 9:45. There were two end-of-term schools events lined up. School groups from all over Nottinghamshire coming to special screenings of Ice Age 2: The Meltdown (which I had already seen on Saturday). The first group were very well behaved and didn't make much mess in the cinema. They had been told by their teachers that they were not allowed to eat, so subsequently they didn't leave much rubbish. As an usher, the success (or ease) of a shift is normally rated on three different factors:

1. Audience numbers (the fewer the better)
2. Latecomers (the fewer the better)
3. Snacks consumed / mess made (the fewer the better)

While the children were watching the film, I began writing the first of the day diaries (published on this blog) in my notebook. It was something that I had been planning to do since the very beginning of the project - to make a short report for each day of 'Part-time', which would run-alongside and complement the data being collected in the Prime Time spreadsheet. These would provide a more subjective and anecdotal account of events.

I began writing about the first day of the project (Monday 26 June), looking back over two weeks. This was odd, but also quite a successful way of working. It amazed me how easy it was to re-live the events of each day, when I focussed and began writing. I was aided by the Prime Time Log Book, which had a minute-by-minute record of activity helping me to recall the finer details.

I got through the first couple of day's diary entries whilst ushering that day. Once the film has begun, if I don't want to watch it, I am permitted to sit outside on the comfy chair and do what ever I like. I can read magazines, books or work in my notebook. Given that today's shift was also part of 'Part-time' I had the added satisfaction of being paid (by Prime), to be paid (by Broadway) to do my own work!

The afternoon's screening was upstairs in Screen 1, which has a much large capacity than Screen 2. I was told they were expecting a lot more kids. The other bad news was that they were going to give all of them all sweets as part of the end-of-term party deal. As an usher, it's difficult not to despise anyone who brings food into the cinema, as after the screening, every single last little piece of popcorn has to be picked up by hand. The thought of 150 screaming ten-year-olds with free reign over boxes and boxes of Haribos was quite terrifying.

While they were in the cinema I sat outside and read the paper. At the end of the screening it took me 12 minutes to clear up the mess which was not as bad as I had anticipated. I took the rubbish out to the bins and headed home.

That afternoon, I had a call from Janine at Barker Ross, she said she had another office job available this time at Nottingham Trent University (NTU)! It was only part-time working Mondays and possibly Fridays every week. She was going to forward my CV to them, for their consideration alongside some other temp workers’.

I found it very amusing that I might end up working back at NTU - the place where I had spent two days a week since February teaching on the Fine Art course. What if I saw people I knew? It would be very odd, but work was work and I wasn't about to turn it down.

That night I did bits-and-bobs of work on the computer and then at about 21:20 I had a strange and uncontrollable urge to file my Tax Return! I reviewed all my spreadsheets for 'expenses' and 'earnings' in year 2005 - 2006, looked over my bank statements and calculated the figures. I then went on the Inland Revenue site and uploaded the whole thing. It took less that two-and-a-half and I felt very pleased with myself in the end, if not slightly annoyed about the amount of tax it said I had to pay.

09 July 2006

The Grand Finale

I went swimming this morning, and then spent the best part of the day updating spreadsheets. Firstly the Prime Time spreadsheet, which is taking me on average 45-60 minutes each day during the project, then Tea Blog my ongoing web-based project for 2006, The Challenge Series another ongoing project (which requires updating after every time I go swimming and then the dreaded World Cup swapsies spreadsheet. It'll be interesting, at the end of the Prime Time project, to be able to calculate how much time I've wasted on those goddam stickers!

By the time I came to update the Prime Time spreadsheet today I realised that I hadn't worked on it since Thursday evening, meaning that I had a solid two-and-a-half day's data to input. It took me nearly two hours to catch-up. I vowed then to stay on top of things throughout the rest of the project; it really must become a priority to input data on a daily basis.

After that we took a quick trip to Moot Gallery on the skateboard. When we return I sat down and replied to Joanna's email with my thoughts on our Union of Undercover Artists. We needed to post our letter to Steven and Mark Smith at Prime as soon as possible, to inform them that we had unionised. I also put forward the suggestion that we needed a communal email address so that from now onwards we could all communicate with Steven under the guise of Tina Gurley Flynn.

We then watched the World cup final, Zidane scored a penalty and then Italy equalised. In extra time Zidane disgraced himself and was sent off and Italy won the whole thing on penalties - could it be more exciting? After that I watched the highlights of the Men's Wimbledon Final. It was satisfying to see all these things finally finished off - done and dusted. No need for me to waste any more time watching football or tennis matches - phew!

At 18:53 (just 7 minutes before kick off) I received a call from Janine at Barker Ross. It was bad news, they didn't need me to work at Gleeds anymore. Their old temp Sally had return from holiday and wanted her job back. It was a great shame for me, because had I been able to work there for just one more week, I would have come far closer to meeting my quota. Now I found myself job seeking again...

Week Two Final Hours Slip

08 July 2006

Saturday Matinee

The weekend before 'Part-time' began (24 - 25 June), I found myself without a job and desperate to get hold of one. I had my interview with E.ON lined up for Wednesday 28 June but who knew how that would turn out, or when I would be able to start work if I was successful. Back then, I needed to find work fast.

My efforts with the hotel were not paying off. I had called them several times the week before the project to see if they were interested, each time they said they would get back to me. And my CV issuing blitz in shops around town did not leave me feeling particularly hopeful. Then the call came from my Manager James at Broadway Cinema, where I have worked part-time as an usher since November 2003.

I had originally planned not to take on any ushering shifts during the 'Part-time' project as I wanted to be able to focus completely on my 'new job'. However, there I was two days before the project was scheduled to start, desperately trying to find work and with someone on the phone offering me shifts.

I delayed telling him whether I could definitely do the shifts for a day and then tried to get hold of Steven to explain my predicament and to get his advice on the matter. I wasn't able to speak to him as he was on the last weekend of his holiday, so I just decided to go for it and take the shifts. Work is work after all isn't it?

There were five shifts in total all in the week 8 - 15 July, the third week of the Prime project. So today, was my 'first ushering shift' as part of 'Part-time'. Before I headed off to work I had a phone call from Steven, he had been concerned about my job at Gleeds because it was full-time and therefore did not fulfil the specifications for the project. I did my best to explain the 'beggars can't be choosers' situation I was in and told him that actually I might not even be working there next week if Sally (the other temp) returned.

At Broadway, the Saturday matinee was Ice Age 2: The Meltdown. It wasn't very busy, which is always a relief for an usher. I watched the film (one of the perks of the job), it wasn't too amazing but entertaining enough if you are being paid. I enjoyed the fact that the female Woolley Mammoth (voiced by Queen Latifah) was also called Ellie.

I had about a 45 minute break before the next film started so I ate a donut and worked in my notebook - attempting to make an assessment of the first two weeks of the project. I drew a timetable for the four weeks of 'Part-time' so that I was able to easily visualise how much work I had done so far and much I still needed to find to complete my quota.

By the end of the following week's shifts at Broadway (plus the work I'd already done at Gleeds and the day's lecturing at Angel Row Gallery) this would amount to a total of 47 hours work. Leaving me just 33 more hours work to find to meet the target of 80 hours - not too bad

My replacement usher did not turn up on time at 18:30, so I had to leave the cinema unattended when I left and ask the box office to keep an eye on it. We made pizza for dinner and watched the end of Doctor Who and the 3rd Place Play Off match between Germany and Portugal, which Germany won easily.

After that we watched the film Me and You and Everyone We Know on DVD. This film also seemed to have some relevance to 'Part-time'. It is about a struggling artist who works part-time as a taxi driver for the elderly. The story jumps around between her work, the people she encounters, her day-to-day life and how she goes about pursuing her art practice and career. It is interesting to see this sort of life-style (not completely dissimilar to my own) portrayed on film.

07 July 2006

Copy Typing

Today was my favourite day at work so far. I again arrived early and started working straight away, so that I could leave early to catch the 16:55 back into town. When I got there Sarah told me that she didn't want me to continue with the filing today, as there was so much typing to be done. I was very relieved to be doing something different.

She started me off typing three handwritten letters: one from Alistair Walker and two from Andrew Simkin. It was odd, I didn't really know either of these people, yet by typing their letters, I was learning snippets of information about their lives and some of the difficulties they were encountering in the projects they were managing.

Every now and again I would come across a word that I could not decipher in their scrawled handwriting. I'd ask Sarah (who was sat opposite me also typing at her computer). If she couldn't tell what it was meant to say, I just put underscores to indicate a word missing.

The letters were then printed and then given back to the person who wrote them to check over and amend. They are then returned to me to have the changes made, and then printed, returned to the person who wrote them to be signed and then posted. The whole system seemed to me to be completely inefficient and wasteful - not only of paper, but also of man / woman hours.

There are obviously a lot of people who consider themselves too superior or important to type their own letters. If only they stopped to consider that perhaps it might save time and company resources if they typed them themselves. There would be no need for the handwritten draft, no problems with bad handwriting, no to-ing and fro-ing, no repetition - job done!

In the morning I heard Sarah chatting to a friend about the fact that it was Friday and that she was going to the pub with some of 'the girls'. As it got nearer to lunch-time, I wondered (and hoped a little too) whether I would be invited. In fact earlier in the day Sarah had reminded (perhaps slightly encouraged) me to buy a sandwich from the sandwich van. Something that I had done on the on my first day, but had missed-the-boat with on the second. Today I had bought my cheese and beetroot roll, so had I have been invited to the pub, I wouldn't have been able to eat it.

Sarah disappeared at lunch without a word; I sat in the staff room again. I didn't really mind that much, but it made me wonder why I hadn't been invited. Am I really that odd or boring that someone wouldn't want to spend time with me? Am I really that different from the 'the girls'?

In the afternoon I typed up handwritten minutes. This was interesting - the minutes had a set Gleeds layout, which I quickly got the hang of. The numbering system for each point was efficient and corresponded exactly to the points listed on the agenda. This was unlike any meeting I had ever held or been present at before - the sorts that ramble on for hours without any need, without any real idea when a conclusion has been found (but that's artists for you!) I fantasised about being as efficient and professional with minute taking as Gleeds, at all the meetings I attended in future.

After making changes to several sets of minutes (some I had typed and some Sarah had), I only had about an hour left of work. I still had to finish off my filing, if I left and didn't come back next week, without re-labelling all the files I had adjusted and reordered, nobody would have a clue where anything was stored. Then I would definitely end up with the same reputation as the last poor temp.

So I set about re-labelling. I didn't have time to re-do the entire numbering system as I would have liked, so I had to settle for a half job. It was good enough to understand where everything was stored, but was a deviation on the regulation Gleeds system.

I hoped they wouldn't be disappointed or angry with what I had done, but instead I hoped they'd feel pleased about the positive changes and remember me for the initiative I had shown, spending two whole days creating a new logical filing system to help them cope with their large quantities of paperwork.

I had to leave in a bit of a rush, not leaving time for any 'long goodbyes', but just enough time to snaffle a few souvenirs in the way of stationery and Post It notes.

I was just in time to catch the bus and arrived back in down in time to collect my second pair of glasses from Specsavers and to meet Jon and Tony at Broadway Cinema to watch Spike Lee's Inside Man (OK, but very silly).

I went straight home to catch up on my spreadsheets and to tidy the flat a little. Later that night there was a film on TV called Office Space. A film that previously I may not have been able to identify with at all, I was suddenly fascinated with. The main character is fed up of his dull job in a boring non-descript company. During a company evaluation, he tells his boss that when he arrives at work he stares blankly at his computer screen for around an hour to make it look as though he is working, then he does exactly the same for the first hour after lunch.

There is plenty of talk to 'memos' and 'procedures'. When asked what he would do if he won the lottery and didn't have to work he says 'I'd do nothing all day - nothing for the rest of his life'. This related quite neatly back to the conversation I had in May as part the Group Crit.

I also fantasized about doing nothing, but the reality of it would probably drive you crazy in no time. Isn't there some sort of saying about a busy mind being a happy one?

I found this quote from Office Space particularly amusing: 'Ever since I started working, every single day of my life has been worse than the one before - that means that every new day is the worst day of my life'.

06 July 2006

Filing Frenzy

This was my second day as an office temp. Last night I slept the whole night through without waking (the first time since the recording process began). I got up at 7:00 again, catching the early bus so that when I arrived I had time to spend a few minutes taking photos of the Gleeds building from outside. It was the same bus driver on the No.2 as yesterday, which made me think he must do the same run everyday at the same time - this it what having a routine is all about.

Today I felt I was becoming one of them, no longer an 'undercover artist', but now just a regular office bod. At lunch I sat in the staff room again, a fellow worker was in there too, we had a brief chat to pass the time. For the office worker lunch is an opportunity to have 'free time' or to relax. Despite becoming one of them, I was still of the mentality that lunch was an opportunity to catch up on other things one should be doing. I read Art Monthly - the Mike Nelson review and then all about the Sydney Biennial. I worried about being seen as rude for reading, rather than chatting, but deep down I didn't really care. I was never going to see these people again, at least not after the next week or two had passed. Anyway, there was still some confusion about how long I would be able to work there for.

The previous day, I had been told by Sarah Brown, that they weren't yet sure whether they needed me next week (until Friday 14 July as Janine had initially suggested), but maybe I would only be able to work there until the end of this week. They couldn't let me know until Sunday evening - the very last minute - as it all depended on the return Sally (another temp worker) from her holidays.

All day I continued with my mission to re-file all the emails that had been sent as part of either the Northampton Schools Project or the Northampton School for Girls Project. I had a short break in the middle of the afternoon to do some photocopying.

I quickly developed a trick for taking extra breaks by visiting the toilet. Only a fool would go to the toilet during their lunch break (un-paid), when this could just as easily by done on Gleeds time. I made regular trips to the bathroom, seeing it as a safe haven - a place were I could spend a few minutes catching up on notes in my Log Book.

By the end of the day, an end to the filing was in sight. I really hoped that I would not have to continue with it tomorrow, it was beginning to become a slightly-more-than-tedious task. Sarah let me leave about 10 minutes early (as I had arrived early in the morning), meaning I could catch the 16:55 No.1 bus direct back into town.

That evening I was in a better mood. I came home to an email of rejection from Key Personnel, one of the agencies I had signed up to on Monday 3 July. At least they had acknowledged me, which was more than could be said for the others (except my guardian angels Barker Ross of course).

At 18:14 I had another unexpected call from Alan at Labour Ready, asking if I could work that night. He sounded desperate. I found this really strange for a number of reasons.

Firstly, they are only meant to find work for you on the days that you go in, between 5:30 - 8:00, and sign the register. I hadn't been in since Monday, yet they were still offering me work.

Secondly, Alan is the man who opens up at 5:30 - what on earth was he doing still working there over twelve hours later? I felt very sorry for him. I had to tell him that I had since found a job with another agency and that I wouldn't be able to work that night. I apologised and thanked him for calling.

05 July 2006

Working Nine To Five

Today was my first day at work. I got up around 7:00, showered, had breakfast, dressed in my new outfit and left the flat at 8:00. I caught an earlier bus that Janine had suggested and arrived in Wilford (just outside Nottingham City) at 8:40. I signed in with a visitor's pass and waited for Sarah Brown to come and meet me in reception.

Sarah looked me up and down. When I stood up out of my chair I was a good foot-and-a-half taller than her. I knew instantly that we were very different people. I was glad that I hadn't worn my flip-flops as everyone was very smartly dressed. This made me wonder why people actually wore smart clothes to work in an office, especially in the hot summer. Isn't the main priority, conducive to working hard, to be comfortable? No 'customers' are going to see you anyway. Fair enough if you are going to have a meeting, but if you are just sitting there in front of a computer or filing, what is the point?

Gleeds is a large construction company that has offices all over the UK and around the world. I was working in the Management Services (GMS) department. I think that the main purpose of this department is to manage construction projects - negotiating with all the different parties involved (clients, constructors etc) to make sure things run smoothly.

I was allocated a nice desk with my own computer. My username was 'TempGMS'. However, I didn't use the computer at all on the first day. There was a huge mountain of paper behind my desk - 4 or 5 piles each a foot deep. Sarah told me that it all needed filing, but first I had to go through the existing files and 'sort them out'. The previous worker in my role, named David, had filed all these documents in the wrong place and had since been 'let go'.

The filling I had to do was the Northampton Schools Project - the building of 41 new schools on Northamptonshire. There was another project similarly named the Northampton School for Girls Project and poor David had mixed the two sets of documents together.

Before Lunch I tried to get to grips with the two projects and work out which people and companies were involved in each. Nearly all the documents in the files were emails which had been printed out. They ranged from one sentence to several pages. I got the impression that almost every single email sent by anyone involved in the projects (not just GMS staff) had been printed out. As you can imagine, this is a hell of a lot of paper work. I fact it is around 16 full-size ring binders full of it.

Tom, one of the people involved in the project, who seemed quite young and a little out of depth in his job, drew me a diagram to try to explain the structure of the project and how all the parties involved linked together.

During my lunch break, I couldn't help myself thinking about the filing and what would be the best way to approach this enormous task. After lunch I proposed my idea to Tom - the entire filing system needed to be changed. Instead of the 'Correspondence In/Out' system they were using, the files needed to be named 'Correspondence Sent By', so that each paper email or letter could only possibly go in one file (filed by the person or organisation who sent it) rather than the possible two files allowed by the 'In/Out' system.

I asked how long they expected me to spend on this job and I was told a couple of days. I thought that should long enough to do it, so I got stuck in straight away. One-by-one I took every single paper about out of every single file (all 16 files). I systematically began highlighting the name of the sender of each email and putting them into new piles accordingly. I continued with this until 17:00, when I was allowed to go home.

I almost enjoyed the filing task, but kept thinking I wasn't doing it quite as I should be - making it up as I went along to a certain extent. It would have been fine had it been my own filing, but it was not, it was Gleeds' filing and they probably had institutional systems, rules and codes for filing that I, as an outsider, wasn't aware of. I kept thinking that maybe I would be the next 'David' and that as soon as I left, they would have to hire another temp to undo all my wrongdoings.

Working on the filing made me realise that I'd rather be working on a task which is more clear-cut about what was required, where less initiative or decision making is required.

That night I was in a really bad mood - pissed off that I had just spent a whole day wasting time, doing some menial task that no-one would even notice and if they did it'd probably just be to complain that it's wrong.

I was also angry at myself for wasting the majority of my 'free time' either sorting through World Cup stickers of watching football matches. I could not wait for the World Cup to be over and for my sticker book to be complete, then maybe life might be able to go back to normal. I spoke to my mum on the phone, but was I was very grumpy and felt very bad for being rude to her.

04 July 2006

I Got Hired

Today I got a job! The day started with a site seeing tour of Nottingham with Joanna. First to Labour Ready, where I waited cagily on the other side of the street, while Joanna photographed the building inside and out (all the photographs featured on this blog of Labour Ready are hers).

Then to the Ice Stadium, with the Torvill & Dean bar, followed by a walk through the Lace Market into the city centre. We went to the Nottingham Information Centre and bought souvenirs, I asked if they had any jobs and was told to check the Evening Post (the local newspaper). We then headed off towards Nottingham Castle.

En route I bought a copy of the Evening Post and discovered that the main 'Recruitment' section was published on a Wednesday - mental note made. We then walked past another agency called Manpower on Old Market Square. They had a notice in the foyer advertising 'Data Entry - Immediate Starts - Call in or Ring'. Joanna suggested that I wasn't smart enough today to call in (I agreed), so I took down the number to call later that day.

We then went to The Tales of Robin Hood, to the Castle and then back home for lunch. At home I called Manpower and left my details about the data entry job. I walked Joanna down to the station and said goodbye to her on the train.

A minute later my phone rang - it was Manpower. Not entirely good news, they told me that the data entry jobs had been delayed. They didn't know when they were going to start but would get back to me, if they needed me. Feeling a bit jaded by this point, I called into TK Maxx for a browse. While I was in the changing rooms, trying on some clothes I didn't really like, my phone rang again. It was Janine from Barker Ross, she offered me a job in an office for a company called Gleeds. I was to start the very next day at 9:00. Janine said she would call me back to confirm all the details later.

It felt as though a huge wait had been lifted off my shoulders. I decided to buy one of the items I had tried on and then headed straight into H&M to buy myself a 'smart outfit' suitable for the office. I bought some black trousers and a red short sleeve shirt. I didn't want to be too hot in the office but needed to look smart. I suddenly started to panic about what people would think of me and how they would judge me by what I was wearing.

When I got home I spoke to Janine again. She had all the details: the address and even the exact bus numbers I needed to catch, where the bus stops were and what time they left - I couldn't believe my luck! I spent the evening working on various spreadsheets - updating Prime Time, but also spending an unbelievable two hours on my Panini World Cup 2006 swapsies spreadsheet. I watched bits of the semi final Italy vs Germany, which was 2 - 0 at extra time.

03 July 2006

Early Start

Today was the longest and strangest day of the project so far. The first day I'd made a concerted effort to find work at all costs. I found it impossible to sleep the night before in anticipation of my early morning visit to Labour Ready. I dozed off eventually at around 4:00 only to be woken by my alarm clock at 5:00. I got dressed and went straight to Labour Ready, being only the second person to 'sign in' that morning at around 5:45.

I then waited and waited, sitting on a grubby yet comfy sofa that looked distinctly as though it had been rescued from a skip. Almost two hours passed. I then went and asked Alan whether he thought it was worth me waiting any longer. He said that today was abnormally quiet and that I should probably just go home - he would call me if anything came up. So straight home I went and got straight back into bed. I slept for about three hours hoping that Alan would not call and disturb my rest.

I woke at 10:30 on a mission. I was fuzzy-headed, but I realised now that Labour Ready didn't provide the golden ticket to employment that I had imagined. I now had to find work elsewhere, as quickly as possible. I grabbed the Yellow Pages and went through the whole Recruitment section. I made a list of five suitable agencies and then proceeded to call them all.

The first, Express Recruitment, was no use as they said the looked for five month minimum contracts, which was far too long for my needs. The second Barker Ross Recruitment were friendly and well organised, they asked if I could come in for an interview later that day. I said 'yes!' and the appointment was made for 14:30.

The next three Thorn Baker, Wheatcroft Sims and Key Personnel were also helpful. They each asked me to email my CV to them and said they would be in touch with me in due course.

Later that day I spoke to my friend Jeanie, who on hearing how desperate I was to find work told me that a friend of hers, Paul, owned a shop called Luna and was looking for part-time staff. I called Paul straight away, but unfortunately the position had already been filled.

Out of the blue, my phone went a 12:20. It was Alan from Labour Ready; he had a job for me! The problem was it started at 12:30 at Siemens in Wollaton. I wasn't sure what I would have been doing, but just my luck I now had my interview with Barker Ross arranged so reluctantly I had to turn it down.

I went along to Barker Ross wearing 'my skirt' and a black top, with flip-flops (smart-casual for me). When I arrived I was given forms to complete by a rotund lady with a mouthpiece phone headset installed behind her ear. The forms took around half-an-hour to complete. I panicked that they might call Steven, my reference on my CV so I texted to warn him. I went in for my interview at 15:00 with a woman called Naj. For some unknown reason, she took an instant liking to me - quite unheard of in a job-seeking / interview type situation.

I was honest with her from the start (which I think helped). I told her I was self-employed as an artist and was looking for some extra work over the summer (almost true). She said 'wow' to that and told me that I really reminded her of a friend of hers who was also an artist. Apparently we had the same 'aura'. I then began to reel off the long list of all the computer programs I could use and she was very impressed.

She stood up and said 'I'm not going to interview you anymore - I'll put you at the top of my list'. This cheered me up no end. However, as I left the building I couldn't help but think that maybe she says that to everyone she interviews. When I got home it was not long before I had to leave to meet Joanna who was coming to stay in Nottingham for the night, before she went down to London and caught her plane back to New York.

I picked Joanna up from the station at 17:30, we came home and had a curry, prepared by Jon, before going out for a walk around the local area and then into town. We had a pint of Guinness at the Pitcher and Piano (the pub in a church where I always take visitors), then went home to bed. It was great to spend time with Joanna; she was very supportive and helpful. She could actually empathise with what I was going through because she had just experienced her own version of 'Part-time' in Blackpool. We spent a lot of time discussing the trying process of finding work and its significance as part of the project.

We also discussed our yet unnamed union and how to best action ours and Liz's plan to unionise.

02 July 2006

Eye Test

Also a bright and productive start to the day. 50 lengths swimming followed by a long overdue (4 years) visit to the opticians for an eye test and to choose two new pairs of glasses in the Specsavers two-for-one deal. One normal pair and one black and red frames. When I returned to the flat Jon's parents had arrived (for Jon's dad's birthday). We all went out for a meal in town. In the evening I went to the studio to install the blind I had bought in Ikea. We had salad for dinner and then I attempted to get an early night in preparation for my early morning debut at Labour Ready.

Week One Final Hours Slip

At the end of the Part-time project I designed a 'Final Hours Slip', as a pastiche on the familiar 'Pay Slip' received by employees after a week or a month's work. A Final Hours Slip has been produced for each of the weeks I took part in Part-time. I used the data collected on my Prime Time spreadsheet to calculate the exact duration I spent performing different activities related to the project.

01 July 2006

England Vs Portugal

Today started productively with 60 lengths swimming, followed by a good hour's work on the laptop updating the Prime Time spreadsheet.

The positive mood was shattered when a letter arrived on the door mat from E.ON. They had rejected me. It read 'you have been assessed in relation to your skills and experience and unfortunately after careful consideration of these factors, I am sorry to inform you that you have not been successful on this occasion'. The letter also read that 'if you would like further feedback, please telephone me on the number above'.

Having got so excited about the prospect of becoming a meter installation worker, this had come as quite a disappointment. It also did little for my confidence. I am not known for my good track record with job interviews. In fact I have been rejected from the last four I've had. I've not yet been able to work out exactly what is wrong with my technique. Possibly it's something to do with my inability to feign enthusiasm for jobs that my heart is not set on. Maybe this comes across, maybe I just answer the questions all wrong.

They had asked me at the very end of the E.ON interview whether I as driving home, to which I answered 'no I'm catching the bus, I don't have a car'. As soon as I'd said it I became paranoid that this was a test to see if I was just after the job for the free vehicle that they would give me. That's so unfair I thought, I didn't even know there was a vehicle involved until I turned up to the hotel room.

Their kind offer of feedback meant I finally had a chance to find out what went wrong. At the start of next week I would make it my mission to call E.ON and to receive a full explanation on just why I failed to meet their criteria.

After this disappointment I began on a bit of therapeutic cleaning in preparation for our guests arriving to watch the England match at 16:00. I cleaned the whole flat; the toilet, shower and bathroom, hovering everywhere. By 15:00 I was sat on the sofa ready to watch the pre-match build up to the England vs Portugal game.

Jon's little brother Alex and Dan came round to watch the match. It was an extremely tense and emotional few hours, Rooney was sent off and England finally lost on penalties.

The rest of the day was spent sitting on the sofa, watching Brazil lose to France, then watching some Larry David and the beginning of the Paul Auster film Smoke (leant to me by Steven), but I was too tired to watch the end.

30 June 2006

Being Self-Employed

Today it had been planned that I would give a lecture at Angel Row Gallery about my experience of being a self-employed artist. It was part of an event called 'Don't Panic, Picnic' organised by Stand Assembly as part of the Accelerator professional practice programme. I had been offered a fee of 100GBP.

I hadn't yet planned my talk, so spent almost the entire morning preparing it and creating a PowerPoint presentation. I finished around 14:00, just 10 minutes before I had to leave the house to go to the gallery. The event was not very well attended. There were talks from business venture people, the Inland Revenue, myself and some other artists. My talk went well and my joke about 'having more spreadsheets than I do friends' was met with a giggle.

Afterwards the Inland Revenue man jokingly offered me a job - this made me laugh considering how desperate I was to find one, and also because I was secretly hoping he would be impressed by my efficiently kept records.

Straight after the event, we ran to The Dragon pub to catch the end of the Germany vs Argentina quarter final. It went to extra time and then Germany finally won on penalties. We had some of the buffet and then left early to tidy and install Jon's new shelves in his office.

29 June 2006

Biting The Bullet

Today was a very productive day for all aspect of life. I got up at 7:00 and packed my stuff to go to Labour Ready and register. I needed my National Insurance card, my Passport and two proofs of my address.

I was greeted by Alan, the man who had the hideous job of opening up at 5:30 everyday of the week. He gave me my registration forms and a Health and Safety quiz to answer. There was so much small print to read that it took me nearly an hour to complete the forms. One of the dodgiest bits was the 'Travel Agreement' that you had to sign. It stated that if Labour Ready transported you to your place of work then the cost of travel would be deducted from your wages. I made a mental note to use my bike or public transport if at all possible, but as of yet, I had no idea where they might end up sending me.

The thing I liked about Labour Ready though, was the lack of obligation you have to them or any of your employees (after your day's work). If I want to work I have to sign in between 5:30 - 8:00 that morning. If I don't sign in I have no obligation to work - absolutely no strings attached.

The Health and Safety quiz was nearly all to do with manual labour - PPE (personal protective equipment), working on building sites and industrial factories etc. I answered questions about handling dangerous chemicals and climbing ladders, finding the answers one-by-one in the handbook Alan had leant me. Once registered I intended to return first thing in the morning Monday 3 July.

When I got home, I immediately began creating the Timeline spreadsheet in Excel, which I decided to dub the 'Prime Time' spreadsheet. I had the wind beneath my sail and ploughed through the data I'd been collecting since Monday in my Log Book, entering the activities I had performed one-by-one.

At 10:30 I met Verity and we went on a trip to Ikea in her car - something we had been planning to do together for several months. I bought a white blind for the studio, shelves for Jon's office, some magazine and box files, and some pieces of wood so that I could make alterations to some existing furniture that I had.

In the afternoon and evening I worked on the Prime Time spreadsheet. No football meant that I could get much more done. At 22:30 we began assembling Jon's shelves.

28 June 2006

The Big Interview

Today I went for my big interview with E.ON to become a meter reader. In the morning I did a little research on the internet into the company. I then decided what to wear (trousers rather than skirt) and worked out the times of the bus I needed to catch to get there. The interview was near Nottingham East Midlands Airport (NEMA), which meant I had to get the Skylink bus to get there.

The interview was in the Thistle Hotel. It was a strange place, teaming with bland corporate affairs, of which the E.ON interviews were just one. I was greeted by a middle age man who took me into a hotel room for what he said was a 'colour blind and tool test'. There were around twelve pieces of coloured wire on the table. He asked me to go through and to call out the colours one-by-one.

Then the tool test. There was a piece of really thick wire on the table and five pairs of wire cutters varying in size and strength. I decided to choose the largest of the five pairs of cutters and managed to cut off a section of the wire as he had requested. Then I was asked to disassemble and reassemble an electricity meter. There were around ten different screwdrivers on the table to choose from for this task. I have no idea whether I did any of this right as the man remained silent throughout.

I was then taken through into another hotel room down the corridor where I was met by another two middle age men. The first thing they told me was that they were interviewing me for a different job from the one I had applied for. It was full-time instead of part-time and was meter installation and repair rather than meter reading. It was a skilled role requiring five weeks training. This was not what I had expected and was by no means ideal in terms of the 'Part-time' project, but I decided to proceed with the interview never-the-less.

The more they described the job, the more I got into the idea of doing it. I'd go on a training programme and then when qualified I'd be able to start work. All I needed to provide, they told me, was my underwear. Everything else: the uniform, the vehicle, the phone, the PDA equipment would all be provided by E.ON.

I left the interview wondering what on earth I would say if the did offer me the work. I began to fantasise: this could be the start of a new life for me, an opportunity to forget about being an artist, to start a new career, to learn a new skill and to have routine, regularity and security in my life. God I liked the idea of being a meter installation and repair person! Just think, with my new van I could go to the supermarket or even to the seaside.

In the evening I began to feel disheartened, it might be a good job, but it still didn't solve any of my current problems with regards to 'Part-time'. For a start, if I was selected I wouldn't start training until Monday 10 July at the earliest and my first week would be spent entirely in 'the classroom'. I needed a plan B fast. I decided that on Thursday morning I would go and register with Labour Ready, in preparation for starting work the following week.

In the evening I began working in Illustrator, experimenting with how the Timelines would be visualised. I quickly realised that this was a very labour intensive way of producing them. It required me to calculate the duration of each activity separately using a calculator and then work out the width of each bar. It took me nearly four hours to complete the first day's Timeline.

I needed a better system, a way of automatically generating the Timelines. The only way I could think this might be possible, was using Excel, which meant that before I could attempt it, the reams of data first had to be inputted into a vast spreadsheet.

27 June 2006

Return Of The Laptop

The second day of the recording process started more brightly, as I waited with baited breath for my laptop to arrive home. I began the day by working out the different categories I would use to define the different activities that I carried out and the recorded. This was a way of rationalising the process and making it more realistic for me to maintain for a full four week period.

Afterwards I made a list of all the procedures that I planned to carry out on my laptop as soon as it arrived home. I kept wondering when it would arrive. I then spent the best part of the rest of the day pacing about the flat, staring out the window, on the phone, trying to work out exactly when the laptop would be delivered.

After several calls to Evesham, to the repair centre and eventually to the couriers I was finally able to ascertain that it would arrive between 15:00 - 15:30. I could then relax. I passed the time preparing for my interview at E.ON the next day, and working out what I needed to buy, when my friend Verity took me on a long awaited trip to Ikea on Thursday.

At 15:37 the phone went, it was the courier with the laptop. I set it up on my desk and leapt straight onto it, declared my love for it, kissed it and then transferred all my files back onto its beautiful shiny hard drive. I tinkered on the laptop until it was time to go out.

We went to Dan and Ako's house for dinner that evening. We sat around the table chatting and eating whilst France thrashed Spain in the second round of the World Cup. Dan laughed when I told him I was recording everything I did for four weeks, I would have thought he was used to my antics by now.

When I got home I went straight back on the laptop. I had become obsessed with collecting Panini World Cup 2006 stickers. I had set up an email swapping circle with friends and family who were also collecting. I spent hours updating the 'swapsies spreadsheet' working out exactly which stickers I required from Flo, Edward and Tam. I stayed up until 01:28 on Wednesday morning.

26 June 2006

Waiting For Laptop

Today was the first day of the recording process. I found the whole experience bewildering and intensely stressful. I have described these feelings in more detail in The Recording Process entry (published below).

For a while it crossed my mind that the only way I could get through the day, would be to lie on my bed and do absolutely nothing, therefore not having to write anything down. Instead I decided to sit at my desk and spend several hours writing about my experience of Prime to date, how my ideas about 'work' have developed in the run up to finding a job. This text can be read in the earlier entries published below on this blog (which were all written during this period on Monday 26 June).

For five weeks running up to today, I had been without my laptop as it had been sent back to the manufacturers Evesham for repair. I had been told the previous week that the laptop would be returned this Monday. For five weeks I had worked on an old PC in the studio and I was greatly looking forward to getting my laptop back.

At 11:55 I called Evesham only to discover that my laptop was not scheduled to be delivered today, but would in fact arrive on Tuesday. This frustrated me a great deal as I had transferred all my files from the computer in the studio to my hard drive and was no longer able to use it in anticipation of the laptop's return.

Later that day I began to think carefully about exactly what information I should collect in my Log Book. When I started recording, I had not properly planned how much detail I would or should go into. I began to work on the first sketches on what the Timelines, I hoped to make with the information, might look like and slowly I began to rationalise just how much information it would physically be possible to convey on paper.

I worked out that even if the Timelines were each a meter long (totalling 28 meters), activities of one minute would be the smallest visible duration. It was then that I decided that activities of less than one minute would not be recorded. Moving from room to another within a building would not be recorded (unless the activity changed at the same time) and conversations with people would not be record unless they indicated a change of activity (from work to leisure for example) except for those taking place on the phone.

In the early evening I watched Italy beat Australia on a last minute penalty. This was an exciting moment in what had been a miserable day.

The Recording Process

Today I feel sick in the head, a defective person trapped in a prison. I put this mainly down to not having enough sleep. The lack of sleep came about as a result of the beginning of the monitoring process. Every time I woke up in the night, my activity changed from sleeping to being awake in bed, therefore I had to make a note in my Log Book of the time of change of activity.

However at the moment of becoming conscious I wasn't sure what I was meant to be doing, my mind was confused. I didn't know whether to record the activity I had been doing in my dream or to record the act of sleeping. After being awake for a little while I came to realise that if I stayed asleep I wouldn't have to write anything done. When this was clear, I could finally drift off again. This didn't prevent me, however, from waking up startled and confused on three further occasions.

Today I have major concerns as to whether I'll be able to keep this up. I've spoken to two people about my concerns about the project and have received conflicting advice.

The first was from my friend Verity, who had popped round unexpectedly and found me in a rather bad mood. She was concerned about me attempting to record everything I did. When I told her about Prime, she was excited about the project. She liked the prospect of getting a new job, saying that the best thing would be having the opportunity to meet lots of new and interesting people.

I agreed with her that yes this would be good, but at the same time I wasn't sure I would be able to do it. I wouldn't be able to act in a natural way whilst recording my every move. I knew that instead, I would end up trying to avoid people so that I wouldn't have to record so much information and could avoid having to explain what I was doing.

This made me question whether I was doing the right thing. Would I be ruining my experience of 'Part-time' by trying to document it? I wasn't going to enjoy the next four weeks. I would be constantly observing myself take part in the activity, rather than truly experiencing it. I worried that maybe I should just quit now (on the first day, before I'm in too deep) and start on something else more along the lines of my first idea.

The second piece of advice however, gave me more confidence and motivation about the idea. It was from Jon. He said that he always had admiration for projects with an incomprehensible amount of detail - when you are stunned at the amount of obsession and rigour that has gone into something. He said that this project had that same potential, just as long as I persisted.

Not one to be a quitter, I decided to persist. I needed to begin to rationalise the amount of data I was collecting, by creating categories for different types of activity for example Domestic Work or Job Seeking. I also needed to work out as quickly as possible, how I was going to visualise the information into colour coded timelines. As soon as I had this sorted I could begin to visualise each day as I went through the four week period. Therefore, I would be able to see the ongoing fruits of my labour and be motivated to continue.

Desperate Times

On Thursday 22 June I discovered a place not very far from where I live called Labour Ready . 'Work Today - Cash Today' was its slogan. I had walked past this place thousands of times over the last few years as it is on direct route between home and my studio or the station, but not once had I taken any notice. Now, under this self-imposed pressure to find work the words jumped out at me from the window display.

I went inside. The deal was that you had to register before you could get work. Registration took place between 5:30 - 8:30 and apparently, if you turned up at this time, you were highly likely to get sent to work that same day. Factory or 'order picking' work - it all sounded a little vague, but at least it was a possibility. 'Right' I thought, I'll go in first thing on Monday morning and find work!

On Saturday, just to throw another spanner in the works, my boss from Broadway Cinema called to say that he'd pencilled me in for some shifts in July and could I confirm whether I could definitely do them by Sunday. What should I do? My own 'low-wage' job wanted me to work and here I was desperately scrabbling around trying to find another one.

On Saturday night my head was completely swimming - the ridiculousness of the situation dawned on me. What exactly was the purpose of the next few weeks? I was looking for a job, because I was being paid by Prime to look for one. I was about to force myself to get up at 5:00 and enter the seedy world of Labour Ready, just to work that one day. This was a completely unnatural experience. False pressures were being applied from all directions. Prime was stipulating that I must work 20 hours each week and I was going to play the game and force myself to do just that.

I had a restless night's sleep on Saturday and a long succession of nightmares. I dreamt about queuing at Labour Ready amidst a vast number of people. Sometimes I was the only woman there, sometimes not. I was nervous and self-conscious that I would be found out as 'an artist' doing 'a project'. People looked at me suspiciously as I scribbled down my movements in my notebook. Is she a reporter? What is she doing here? No matter how long I queued for I never reached the front, I never got a job.

When I woke I went swimming to clear my head. The thought of starting two things at the same time (the new job and recording all my actions) was just too much for me, especially when there was so much uncertainty about how either would turn out. It was making me feel sick inside. I was nervous about each of these things in equal measure and the combination of the two beginning at the same time could send me over the edge. So I formulated a plan to help me stay sane:

At 0:00 Monday 26 June I would begin monitoring my activities, keeping an ongoing record of how I spent my time. This would allow me to get used to this process in a safe environment - get used to using my new Log Books and my new large screen digital watch (both of which I had bought on Saturday in preparation).

I would use the first week of the project as a warm up, getting myself used to the process. I would go to my meter reading interview on Wednesday and keep my fingers that I got the job, hopefully starting the following Monday. Plan B would be Labour Ready and I would go in first thing on Monday 3 July and work.

Looking For More

At the very beginning I had decided that I could only start 'Part-time' once I had finished teaching on 20 June. Once assessments were over, I had planned to start my new job on Monday 26 June. What I hadn't been prepared for was how difficult it would be to get this job - nobody had yet agreed to employ me.

Two-and-a-half weeks before the start I had begun filling in application forms, which Steven had sent to me. By this stage (dreams of becoming a traffic warden long-gone), I had just decided to go for anything that I thought would be mildly interesting or at least bearable. I applied for a role as Pharmacy worker in Sainsbury's, receptionist at the Britannia Hotel and electricity meter reader with E.ON.

I naively assumed that it would only be a matter of days before I heard something and was called up for an interview. The days ticked on and I found myself in the week before the start date with nothing lined up. In the four days before the 26 June mild panic set in. What was I going to do? My own rules stated that I had to begin on Monday and time was running out. At 0:00 on Monday I would begin recording my activities. But where was I going to work?

There was one glimmer of hope - on 23 June I received a letter in the post inviting me for an interview with E.ON for the meter reading job, but it wasn't until Wednesday 28 June, three days into the project.

I ran around town desperately looking for work. I took CVs to Woolworths, Argos, WH Smiths, and an independent clothes shop and tea rooms. They all had the same retort: 'nothing at the moment, but we'll let you know'.

Two Jobs Already

I then began to question what relevance 'the job' I got had to this particular mission. In actual fact I now would like the results to be as near as possible to documenting 'real life' and how I spend my time. The fact is that I already have two jobs:

- I am a lecturer in Fine Art at Nottingham Trent University
- And for three years have been an usher at Broadway Cinema

No disrespect to lecturing, but being an usher is the best job that I have ever had. It's so good in fact, that I can't imagine ever leaving. Minimum wage aside, any job that pays you to watch films, read or even do other work (marking students project's for example) is just beyond belief.

Since I struck upon my plan to attempt to document everything that I did for four weeks, it seemed a shame that I couldn't do this whilst carrying out the part-time job that I already had. This way the situation would be completely truthful and realistic and the records would show my 'normal life'.

Documenting Time

Also around this time (early May) I became involved in a confrontation based around work, time and their relationships with money. As part of a group of six Nottingham based artists, I coordinated and ran an AN Magazine networking event called NAN-NANA (which took place on 28 - 30 April). The event was six months in the making. At the start of this period we had agreed that each member of the team would keep a record of the time that they spent working towards the event. Then at the end we would all be paid proportionately for our recorded hours.

After the event had taken place, we each submitted our hours and discovered that there were major discrepancies between the levels of detail to which people had documented their time.

Arguments broke out. A flurry of emails went to-and-fro where members of the team described in detail the methods they used to keep accurate records and how they differentiated between what was work towards the project and what was not. As if to justify that they had earned their payment fairly.

This whole episode made me question whether it would actually be possible to work out how long you spend on any particular project or activity. This, rolled into the idea that all activity is 'work' made me stumble across a new idea for the 'Part-time' project.

I had decided that I would attempt, over the course of the four week period, to take account of and document just how every minute of each day is spent - to produce and ongoing list as proof of exactly how I spend my time.

I would document the start time and end time of every activity carried out and explore the boundaries and crossovers between the different types of activity. Once I had decided to attempt this feat (at around the end of May), a whole new set of questions appeared about practicalities.

- Would it be possible?
- How could it be carried out?
- Would the results by swayed by the fact that I was aware of the recording process?

How We Spend Our Time

On Saturday 14 May I took part in a Group Crit at Stand Assembly studios, where myself and five other artists presented and spoke about our work. This was post Day-to-Day Data and I presented the premise that having been out of university for a full five years - I had reached a point where I felt I needed to review and reflect on all the 'work' I had since produced. Simultaneously I challenged myself and the others to evaluate just how-on-earth five years could have disappeared so quickly.

Niki Russell presented his work to the group and a discussion arose about what compels us to make 'work' and what motivates us. What tactics we use and what rules we set to force ourselves to be productive. And also how in an ideal world we would want to spend our time. We may think that in this ideal world we would choose to do nothing, to sit on a beach or lie in bed all day. But this may turn out to be a nightmare, which is why we 'work' instead. We discussed:

- The idea that the artist is always working, that they have no time off, no rest bite and they experience constant guilt through times of lack of production. Artists do not have 'spare time'.

- This lead into the idea of a 'life-long project', work that can sustain the artist until they die.

These ideas appal and attract me in the same measure. I am a self-confessed work-a-holic that hates working.

Life Is Work

In the run-up to the Prime commission I began to consider in more detail the notion of 'work'. There were a number of incidents that made me question the concept of 'work' and how we spend our time.

On Saturday 6 May, whilst enjoying an Indian meal at The Chand on Mansfield Road I entered into a discussion about the notion of 'spare time' with my fellow diners: Niki Russell, Stuart and Anna (AAS), Lucy Gibson, and Kathy Fawcett (Leicester City Art Gallery).

The discussion was brought about because Niki Russell's current performance / installation at Moot Gallery was based on the premise that he only performs in his 'spare time'.

I questioned whether there was any such thing as 'spare time' for artists. This question was in no doubt triggered by the particular type of practice that I have undertaken for the last five years, in which I collected vast amounts of data about my everyday routines. But as I asked it, I had a sudden realisation that I actually considered everything that I did in my life as 'work'.

I did not differentiate between: paid employment, reading, writing emails, shopping, washing, going to the cinema or viewing art. It was all work, they were all ways of spending time, distractions, they were all simply means to an ends.

Work is work, leisure is work, life is work.

Traffic Warden Dreams

From the month of February onwards I began to develop a completely idealistic vision of what taking part in 'Part-time' might entail. I had many conversations with Steven about the sort of jobs I'd like to take on. I first thought about becoming a Traffic Warden - I liked the idea of being outside, in an independent role, having a uniform, gadgets on a utility belt, patrolling the town and performing vindictive acts against as many car owners I could find. It would be heaven.

I imagined that, should I be able to work in this role for four weeks, I would happily create an artwork in relation to my experience. I had in mind a subtle 'street sculpture' that would change each day dependant on the number of cars that I caught and gave tickets to. I imagined for example, using a set of street railings as a makeshift bar chart. Positioning a polystyrene cup (or whatever litter I could find) over the top of the railing representing (on the x axis) the number of cars caught.

The street sculpture could then be photographed on a daily basis from the same position and animated. Either on the pages of the publication (like a flick book) or digitally on the web. I liked the idea that this 'street sculpture' would show the fluctuating levels of success of the work of the Traffic Warden to those who knew the secret code, but to passers-by would go completely unnoticed.

I still like this idea very much, but several things have happened over the course of the last few months which now make seem unrealistic and also less relevant.

The first of these was a result of Steven's investigations into the hiring of Traffic Wardens in Nottingham City. Unfortunately it appeared that Traffic Wardens in Nottingham do not work part-time. The brief from Prime was to spend 20 hours a week in employment and to use the rest of the time to produce artwork in relation to the work. Therefore the 30-odd hours a week required by the Traffic Warden work would be too much.

Pre Prime Enthusiasm

When I was first approached by Steven Renshaw to take part in 'Part-time' I jumped at the chance. The idea of having a reason to get a 'normal job' and becoming a 'normal person' really appealed to me. At that time (February 2006), I was approaching the end of what had then been a two year project called Day-to-Day Data.

At several points during the process of curating Day-to-Day Data, editing the publication and making work for the show I had become very angry and disillusioned with the 'art world', I fantasised about the idea of 'giving up art' and joining the real world with a nine-to-five job.

So Prime first appealed to me as the pure escapism - the perfect antidote to two years' worth of Day-to-Day Data.

I was teaching at Nottingham Trent University up until the end of June. So from the very beginning I planned to undertake my work for Prime for four weeks directly following the end of term. This would be 26 June - 23 July. I had to find a job before that, so that I could start work on the very first day of the project.